Movie Law, like Movie Medicine, tends to sacrifice realism in favor of drama and pacing. I'm generally okay with that, since I really don't want to spend my time off work watching boring lawyers make dry legal arguments and raise evidentiary objections. Sometimes the depictions of law on film do become so unrealistic that they're distracting, and I feel like I'm taking an issue-spotting exam for a law school ethics or evidence class instead of watching a film for entertainment. (I'm looking at you, Intolerable Cruelty.) Whatever the extent of the departure, though, I always expect Movie Law to differ from real law in crucial ways.
And that's why I was so surprised when I watched Veer-Zaara. In the midst of a highly dramatic story, the filmmakers suddenly threw me off with a courtroom scene that was, dare I say, realistic.
The courthouse might be a bit fancier than the ones I've been in, but this Indian film depiction of a fictious Pakistani proceeding is one of the most accurate depictions of a common-law trial court proceeding that I've ever seen in a film. (Of course, please keep in mind that I'm by no means an expert on U.S. law, much less the law anywhere else.) Consider the way the case proceeds:
The judge opens the proceedings and gives the prosecution and then the defense the chance to present their opening arguments. In opening arguments, each side attempts to frame the issues in a favorable way. The judge then permits the prosecution to call its witnesses. The prosecution examines its witnesses, and the defense has a chance to cross-examine the witnesses if it chooses.
To my great surprise, counsel appropriately restrict themselves to asking questions and don't testify, summarize, or argue during the examination of witnesses like Movie Lawyers almost always do. They don't jump in with questions when the other side is conducting the examination. Goodness, they even appropriately pass the witness when they are finished.
Other law-related aspects of the film rang true for me as well. For instance, you often see lawyers insisting on a yes or no answer to a question that really doesn't allow for a simplistic answer. Here's a complaint you hear a lot. And another. And hey, I've got books just like that on my desk.
Even in more filmi courtroom scenes, Hindi films have occasionally surprised me with randomly realistic occurrences or questions. For instance, I was going along fine with the somewhat unlikely events in Immaan Dharam until they distracted me with the kind of foundational question that's so important in a real examination but rarely shows up in Movie Law. (Movie Lawyers tend to jump right into the heart of the matter without asking the essential foundational questions first.)
I'm pretty sure this exact question has shown up in one or more of the cases I've worked on. It's very disconcerting to see something from real life appear in a masala film.
On the other hand, bailiffs in the US do not dress like this:
The opening scene of Benaam is indicative of the overall problem with the movie. While ominous music plays in the background, a man calls a woman and tells her she has to come with him. She becomes upset and says she doesn't want to go. Both their faces are shadowed, and the man toys with a knife as he speaks with her. And then the phone call ends and we quickly discover that the man is Amit (Amitabh Bachchan), a family man and upstanding citizen, and he was asking his wife Sheela (Moushumi Chatterjee) to come to a work party with him. The movie wants to be a thriller, but the things that happen aren't actually very exciting. Any suspense that the movie manages to generate is almost immediately undercut by the anticlimatic events that follow, and after several times of being told, "This is scary and intense! Oh, just kidding. Everything's fine," you stop taking the movie seriously.
The plot is relatively straightforward. On their way to a party, Amit and Sheela witness a crime, and Amit drives the victim to the hospital. His colleagues think he's a fool for becoming involved,
and his good deed does indeed cause some problems in his life. He receives threatening phone calls, and his dog is poisoned.
Then he keeps receiving threatening phone calls, the movie keeps pretending that something exciting will happen soon, and I stop caring. Finally, after two long hours, it ends.
Apparently the filmmakers seriously overestimated how interesting their ending actually was.
Moving on to more interesting topics, I was intrigued by the artsy photos on the wall in Amit's office.
As you can see in closer shots, his desk is tastefully decorated with Glaxose-D products.
In fact, this movie has some of the clunkiest product placement I've ever seen, and I watched Yaadein.
We're even treated to an actual Glaxose-D commercial, ostensibly because Amit needs to show it to his boss for approval.
I'm rather amused by Amitabh's noticeable lack of enthusiasm during all of these scenes.
I also enjoyed the brief appearances by Tun Tun, Iftekhar (as the police commissioner, of course), and Helen.
Helen and Amitabh dance a Viennese waltz together, which was unexpected. That might have been the most thrilling part of the whole movie.
I think this is the only film I've seen where I was rooting for the hero to die for most of the movie. The putative hero, Rajesh (Rajesh Khanna), a poet-cum-freedom-fighter, seems to be headed in that direction from pretty early on in, but is apparently determined to spread as much pain and devastation in the lives of others as he can along the way.
Exhibit A: British woman who witnesses Rajesh murder her husband right in front of her.
Exhibit B: Dead niece, killed by her own mother to keep Rajesh safe.
Exhibit C: Widowed sister-in-law, whom he apparently never thinks about again after the extremely traumatic incident with the niece.
Exhibit D: Truck driver (Vinod Khanna) tortured by the police because he knows Rajesh's whereabouts.
Exhibit E: Jilted girlfriend (Mumtaz).
Exhibit F: Best friend (Shashi Kapoor), who just so happens to have married the jilted girlfriend on the day Rajesh arrives seeking help.*
Exhibit G: The audience. I rest my case.
Also on my list of pet peeves: men who prioritize their male friends over everything else.
That's not to say that the movie is all bad -- I enjoyed some of the songs, Shashi and Mumtaz have some nice scenes together, and I thought Vinod put in a compelling performance in his small role. But, for me, these good things did not outweigh all of the aggravation.
* I watched this movie the night after watching Kabhi Kabhie, and I noticed a common theme here -- in both, a girl who's in love with a poet ends up being married off to Shashi Kapoor instead. I don't think that's such a bad deal. In fact, does anyone know a poet?
I knew nothing about this movie when I bought it except that it starred Shashi Kapoor and came out in the same year as Prem Patra, a Shashi movie I had recently watched and enjoyed. I bought it hoping for some Shasiliciouness, and I wasn't disappointed.
Deepak (Shashi Kapoor), a young doctor, meets Rajni (Nanda) at his sister's wedding. It's clear that their attraction is mutual, although Rajni plays coy.
Naturally, Deepak adds some embellishments when he tells his friends about their meeting.
There's a mix-up with their luggage, which I thought was going to be the means of bringing them together but which ended up being resolved off-screen. I think a few minutes of the film might be missing here -- there's an abrupt transition, and then the characters refer to a conversation we didn't see them have.
At any rate, Deepak and Rajni are brought together soon enough when Rajni is hit by a car in front of the hospital. Not to worry though -- Deepak soon nurses Rajni back to health, and they begin a very sweet courtship, taking walks on the beach,
teasing one another,
and generally being cute and happy.
Obviously, something bad is about to happen. When Rajni goes to the village to tell her mother about Deepak, she overhears a startling conversation between her mother and some villagers.
Although her mother has an explanation,
she doesn't believe her and is worried that Deepak's life will be ruined if he marries an illegitimate child. So, in true Movie Martyr fashion, she decides that the best thing to do is convince Deepak that she doesn't love him, then sit around looking pensive and making enigmatic statements so that everyone knows what a martyr she's being. This kind of behavior always annoys me, but I'm willing to cut her a little bit of slack because I think there might be some cultural things going on here that I don't really understand.
To my great relief, Deepak does not become angry or act like Devdas, as film heroes too often do in this type of situation. He's just sad and bewildered, and I want to give him a hug and tell him that everything will be okay.
His distraction causes some problems at work,
although I'd still rather have him as my doctor than this guy, who says that he's dissected as many hearts as he could and reached the conclusion that
Will anything worse happen? Will everything turn out okay in the end? Well, you'll have to watch the movie to find out. Although it's not my favorite movie ever, there are some good songs, the romance in the first half is cute, and with the second half I'm willing to accept that there's a cultural gap between me and the intended audience. And, of course, there's Shashi.