Jagdish Tyagi aka Jolly (Arshad Warsi) is a lawyer from Meerut who moves to Delhi to improve his practice, finds that he isn’t getting any better at attracting clients and takes the public-interest litigation (PIL) route to instant fame. Jolly forces the reopening of a hit-and-run case involving a rich young man, his Land Cruiser, and a bunch of poor men sleeping on a Delhi pavement (shades of the Sanjeev Nanda case from 1999). Jolly’s motives in forcing a retrial are initially suspect, but his girlfriend Sandhya (Amrita Rao) stirs him to nobility. For a 131-minute movie that is about the power of argument, Jolly LLB is bereft of debate or subtlety. It’s what they call an open-and-shut case.
Writer-director Subhash Kapoor’s second movie, 2010’s Phas Gaye Re Obama, was a superior comedy about a recession-hit gang of kidnappers in Uttar Pradesh that abducts a non-resident Indian businessman, only to realize that his pockets are as empty as theirs. Jolly LLB aims for the same we-are-like-this-only strain of comedy, but the movie is not as quirky or perceptive as its predecessor. Jolly makes an unconvincing transition from an obsequious small-town advocate into a morally upright citizen whose heart starts dripping for the great unwashed. Equally one-note are the celebrity lawyer (Boman Irani) who supports the rich offender’s right to freedom at any cost, the young man’s system-bending family members, and the corrupt police officers who thwart the investigation. The best-written and most memorable character is Justice Tripathi, played superbly by Saurabh Shukla. A pragmatist and eccentric who threatens to hurl paperweights at litigants and is not above asking for personal favours, Tripathi embodies the limitations of the Indian judicial process as well as its strengths. It’s a pity the movie wasn’t about him.
Jolly LLB released in theatres on Friday.