Movie: Section 375
Starring: Akshaye Khanna, Richa Chadha, Meera Chopra, Rahul Bhat, Kruttika Desai and Kishore Kadam
Directed by: Ajay Bahl
Year of release: 2019
Section 375 is a brave and relevant film that tackles a rather complex issue — of laws made to protect women, and the very same laws being misused by women for their vested interest. The way narrative switches from one person’s point of view to another’s, presents both sides of the story.
Notable film director Rohan Khurana (Rahul Bhat) is arrested and convicted by the Sessions Court after assistant costume designer Anjali Dangle (Meera Chopra) accuses him of rape. Anjali, being an assistant, is sent to Rohan’s house to get approval on some costumes. When Anjali arrives at his residence, there is a maid in the house along with Rohan. Upon Anjali’s arrival Rohan sends the maid away to the market so that he can be alone in the house with Anjali. Soon after we see that she is being pushed by Rohan and being “forced” against her will. In the next scene Anjali is spotted by her neighbor, getting out of an auto rickshaw while her face is covered in a scarf. The neighbor however immediately understands that something is odd about Anjali’s demeanor. After reaching her house, her brother is the first one to notice her and thereafter they proceed to file a police complaint.
Investigation and Proceedings
After the complaint is filed, the police following the standard procedure sends Anjali for a full body examination. During the examination, major bruises are found all over her face and in between her thighs. Along with this the scrapings taken from under her nails also have traces of Rohan’s DNA. When an examination is conducted on Rohan it is found that his back is covered in nail scratches and his DNA matches with the DNA found on and inside Anjali’s body. When all the evidence is presented to the Sessions Court, the Court immediately sentences Rohan to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment.
After the Sessions Court passes this order, Rohan’s wife seeks Tarun Saluja’s (Akshaye Khanna) help, who is a famous criminal lawyer. When the order of the Sessions Court is contested in High Court, Anjali is represented by Hiral Gandhi (Richa Chadha) who is a utopian lawyer and a champion of women’s rights fighting her first big case. Interestingly, Hiral was also once Tarun’s trainee.
Under the watchful eyes of judges Justice Madgaonkar (Kishore Kadam) and Justice Indrani (Kruttika Desai), Tarun attempts to expose the weaknesses in Anjali’s claims. Throughout the proceedings of the case Tarun presents concrete evidence and bashes the claims made by Anjali. Hiral on the other hand, relies on emotion rather than solid homework to defend her client. She comes across as a zoned out lawyer who comes up with a disregarded ‘objection’ every now and then.
During the proceedings Rohan makes a confession and the facts mentioned in the confession were:
- Rohan was involved in an extra marital affair with Anjali and had promised her a big film project;
- Due to fallout, Rohan refused to give the big film project to Anjali;
- Anjali out of spite was trying to frame Rohan for her rape; and
- Everything that happened between the two of them was completely consensual.
Tarun successfully proves that the bruises found on Anjali’s body were partly inflicted by her own brother.
However, the court completely disregards it as monumental evidence in the case.
Due to the confusing nature of the case and evidence, pressure of the public and no concrete proof of Anjali’s spitefulness, the court upholds the Order of the Sessions Court.
Thereafter, outside the courtroom, Anjali confesses to Hiral that the confession made by Rohan was true and her bruises were partly self-inflicted and partly inflicted by her own brother. This leaves Hiral shocked and feeling guilty about herself.
The movie ‘Section 375’ gets its name from the same section in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 that contains the definition of rape. Rohan is charged under:
- Section 376: Punishment for rape;
- Section 342: Punishment for wrongful confinement;
- Section 354B: Punishment for assault or use of criminal force on a woman with intent to disrobe; and
- Section 506: Punishment for criminal intimidation.
All these sections shall be rightfully applicable if the acts committed were not consensual. However the film itself shows two different perspectives of the same situation, one perspective more plausible than the other. Throughout the film, Tarun comes across as the devil’s advocate who is supporting a criminal and is immensely hated for it. He has an unconventional way of looking at the facts and presenting them. He is constantly chewing away at the verity of the case, even getting his practicing license suspended at one point.
The movie was a huge question mark on the #MeToo Movement and that made it highly relevant to the given time. The movie received critical acclaim. However, could not garner good numbers at the box office. It received mixed reviews but definitely sparked a conversation. Similar to the movie, many allegations were made during the #MeToo Movement, some of them were true and some were false. Women were seen speaking up on social media about various incidents that happened to them from years ago and this was not limited just to Bollywood but was seen in entertainment and corporate sectors.
Some of the reasons for women making false allegations were revenge, previous grudges, workplace animosity, trying to get money by the way compensation etc. However the more saddening part is that there are no laws that protect the men against these fake allegations made by women. Feminism is a movement that is relevant and important, in today’s date especially in a patriarchal country like India but it should not be taken advantage of or be mistaken for pseudo feminism and misandry. The judges in the movie admit that the case has two different theories and any of them could be correct but since the law has been made for the victim and favors the same, it has to be followed irrespective of the correctness of the confession of the accused.
The movie is deeply cynical about the line between law and justice – the law is concrete but justice is abstract. In the opening of the movie Tarun establishes that “Justice is abstract but law is a fact”, similarly there are many such lines throughout the movie.
The sanctity of a courtroom is upheld by reduced theatrics. There are no dramatic outbursts of anger just straight up facts. The courtroom scenes are loaded with data, statistics, facts and figures which have been laid out for viewers to digest and both the lawyers dissect these facts to make their case. The film is not loud but it’s the toned down performances and strong expressions of Akshaye Khanna that make the most noise.
Tarun demands the right to be heard. “Imagine a world in which we do not have the constitutional right to defend ourselves” he says early in the film. This would indeed be a terrible world. Tarun predictably blames social media for prematurely and permanently — demonizing his client. In doing so, he ignores the fact that the man was already convicted by law, so whatever outrage that followed was legally validated.
It is very clear from the way the movie pans out that the director is keener towards showing the plight of the accused but does not necessarily make the best attempt in doing so. The movie gives a very toxic and dangerous message in the garb of being a subtle reminder of emphasizing how no man accused of rape can ever “walk free”, even if he’s acquitted by the legal system. At the end when Hiral meets Tarun and admits to him that she does not believe that justice was served, Tarun replies “we’re not in the business of justice; we’re in the business of law”.
This only goes to show that justice is an abstract concept and law is just a tool to get there. In this case, the tool is non-existent which further prevents justicefrom being done.
Authored by: Ms. Pragati Pachisia, JCCLC