It’s gratingly frustrating when a film about rape and sexual violence against women doesn’t follow the narrative as per our idealistic notions.
Director Ajay Bahl’s ‘Section 375’ — a disturbingly neat procedural drama that chronicles a rape trial between a junior costume designer (Meera Chopra) and a high-profile temperamental film director (Rahul Bhatt) — is certainly guilty of that charge.
But the exceptional ensemble acted thriller redeems itself because this provocative film makes a compelling argument about how humans can be morbidly manipulative, frail and how our laws can be twisted to suit warped minds. It was a risky route to adopt but the talented set of actors pull it off aided by a decent, sobering story.
Akshaye Khanna, as a sophisticated lawyer who defends the rape accused, is spot-on and he never wavers.
His consistently clinical attitude towards his profession is on display as he utters a few prophetic gems about his profession such as “the law is like a jealous mistress” and “we are in the business of law and not justice”.
He stays within character through the film.
Actress Richa Chadha is relatively idealistic and is his worthy opponent in the courtroom as she champions the rape survivor’s case with all her might. There’s mutual, reluctant respect between these two lawyers and the movie subtly brings it to the front. Their off-court exchange that’s mostly about cynicism vs social conscience is wonderfully highlighted.
Both Khanna and Chadha are in top form as warring legal counsels.
Chopra as the alleged rape survivor and actor Bhatt — as the temperamental, over-confident and morally bankrupt director — are revelations in this film. They hold their own in a movie filled with solid actors who make acting look nuanced yet effortless.
While the subjects of rape, retribution and victim blaming are naturally sobering, the movie doesn’t ever become didactic or overtly manipulative.
Bollywood courtroom dramas have a history of being over-dramatic, but ‘Section 375’ distances itself from the oft-taken route. The movie is well-edited. The first half moves at a crisp pace, while the second half has enough twists to keep you invested in the drama.
The movie explores the subject of consent, will and abuse of power. It isn’t particularly empathetic towards rape survivors who face victim shaming, but that shouldn’t ideally stand in the way of giving this film a chance.
While the developments in the second half require you to suspend belief and is frustratingly convenient, it’s not wholly unbelievable. While you may not be thrilled at where the film is headed, the right thing to do is to give the searing ‘Section 375’ a fair trial.
Film: ‘Section 375’
Director Ajay Bahl
Cast: Richa Chadha, Meera Chopra, Akshaye Khanna and Rahul Bhatt
Stars: 3.5 out of 5