Director: Remy Kohli
Cast: Deepak Dobriyal, Gulshan Devaiah, Raima Sen, Parvin Dabas, Anurag Arora, Jameel Khan
Kuldip Patwal: I didn’t do it! – to paraphrase some very angst-ridden lawyers from the story – is a “disgruntled product of this system”. It is clearly made by filmmakers who are fed up of the country’s administration and politicians. One can argue that this highly simplistic and irrationally angry film is a reflection of our times. One can also argue that the government is to blame if it drives budding artists to make movies so idealistic and irresponsible that even the Central Board of Film Certification (“Censors,” if you may) might have considered it too incompetent to ban. If anything, the CBFC might be the mature ones here, given that this flimsy film is the cinematic equivalent of a post-10-PM drunken debate unfurling between burps of Tandoori chicken and cheap whiskey.
It contains the fictitious case of a common man (an overwrought Deepak Dobriyal) accused of assassinating the Chief Minister (Parvin Dabas) for overlooking the poor working-class sections of the country in favour of rich industrialists and derivative development. Its genre, however, isn’t “fairytale fantasy” but social/courtroom drama. Eventually, shady characters such as the CEO of a company named “Reliable” as well as old-school senior members within the “Bharatsar Rashtravadi Party” come under the scanner. Meerut, Babri, Bofors and Godhra references are cited as examples of how the law always bows down to power. How very brave.
It contains the fictitious case of a common man (an overwrought Deepak Dobriyal) accused of assassinating the Chief Minister (Parvin Dabas) for overlooking the poor working-class sections of the country in favour of rich industrialists and derivative development
The defense lawyer (Gulshan Devaiah; the only actor worth watching here) is crude, earthy and communicates in Punjabi, while the posh prosecution lawyer (Raima Sen) constructs SoBo-level arguments in a fancy English accent and also happens to be the wife of the slain CM who once used to seduce him with satin underwear and silk beds (no idea why the makers thought it necessary to display such out-of-context information as part of the flashbacks). The first half is spent justifying the actions of the accused – you see, he was indirectly wronged by the CM on various occasions – while the second half is spent delving into the very complicated life of a young CM who actually meant well for his people. The plot somehow contrives to cause Kuldip’s livelihood, principles as well as newborn babies to die because of the CM, until a gun is put into his hand by some extremists. Of course, he forgets what happens next – because how else will this film appear mysterious if he actually remembers the facts?
At one point, his lawyer attempts to convince the lady judge by starting his line of debate with, “We all have thought of murdering a top minister at some point in our lives, no? My client simply wanted to kill an ideology, not a politician!” At another point, Madame lawyer breaks into a rant about how everyone just finds it fashionable to run down clueless politicians. “You don’t realize how tough it was for my husband,” she cries, imparting some bedroom wisdom to a stunned courtroom as part of the most high-profile case in the nation.
Speaking of flashbacks, it’ll take me a good while to get over the rather layered structure of Kuldip Patwal’s narrative. It begins with shots fired at the CM during his election speech. “15 Minutes Earlier,” says the slate, in which we then see an unassuming lower-middle-class family going about their chores in a house nearby. This family, we later learn, is the Patwal family, unaware that Kuldip is attending the rally with a gun.
If the makers had stopped beating around the bush, this could have been an honest memoir-biopic titled Demonitization: I did it!
For some reason, we are then acquainted with the static world of the irrelevant cop in charge of Kuldip’s interrogation. Soon, we are introduced to the temperament of the large-hearted and unorthodox defense lawyer, who spends his time fighting free cases for the land of impoverished farmers. We also see him eat at restaurants with his wife and son, where he argues about the concept of Service Charge. It’s almost as if the director may have gotten inspired by Chaitanya Tamhane’s award-winning Court, while writing what is essentially a manipulative masala movie.
“11 Years Ago,” the slate then reads, when Kuldip decides to narrate his circumstances to this lawyer. Within that flashback, after Kuldip’s sarkaari job dreams are dashed by the reservation quota order, “5 Months Later” his wife has twins. During courtroom proceedings, Madame lawyer slips into flashbacks of her husband. “14 Years Ago,” we see the rise of the CM as the young face of the traditionalist party. Finally, even the writers of this film give up and flash “About 12 Years Ago” as a parting slate, to show us why poor little CM felt like a misfit in Indian politics.
It eventually stops mattering which era we occupy, because everyone has forgotten that this is a murder case. If the makers had stopped beating around the bush, this could have been an honest memoir-biopic titled Demonitization: I did it! But alas, Mr. Patwal remains a hypothetical symbol. And by the time the self-important judge delivers an allegedly landmark verdict, I’m afraid this awfully crafted film becomes as dated as the dangerous mentality that supports it.