In October 2015, after a five-year hiatus post her delivery, Aishwarya Rai made a grand comeback with the taut thriller Jazbaa, which had her essaying the role of a suave criminal lawyer with effortless ease. The film made me wonder why our industry makes such few films focussing on lawyers and courtroom drama and even fewer ones where the female protagonist is a lawyer.
Looking back one realizes that this genre has never been accorded much importance in our films which probably explains why many of our top male stars like Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, Shammi Kapoor, Aamir Khan, Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan, etc., have refrained from essaying the role of a lawyer.
After a lot of research, I came across 15 remarkable films where our actresses have had the opportunity to don the black robe. Interestingly out of these, except for Insaaf Ka Tarazu and Phir Milenge, in all other instances our lady lawyers have emerged as the winner in the cases they represented. In all of them, they were pitted against brilliant actors in the role of the opposing counsel like Ashok Kumar, Danny Denzongpa, Paresh Rawal, Anupam Kher, Dr Shreeram Lagoo, Rajesh Khanna, etc., and the actresses matched these stalwarts in their acting prowess by coming up with outstanding performances.
Aishwarya Rai as Criminal Lawyer Anuradha Verma in Jazbaa (2015)
Aishwarya Rai plays a prominent criminal lawyer and a single mother who reportedly charges hefty fees but also has the reputation of never having lost a case. But one day, her six-year old daughter is kidnapped and she is forced to defend a rapist-cum-killer and have him pronounced innocent within seven days in order to have her daughter released without any harm. Thus starts a series of events interspersed with interesting courtroom scenes. Aishwarya Rai does a wonderful job of her well-defined role and could not have asked for a better comeback vehicle.
Paoli Dam as Public Prosecutor Kajori Sen in Ankur Arora Murder Case (2013)
Paoli Dam, plays a prosecution lawyer representing the mother whose child Ankur dies at the operation table due to negligence of the surgeon. By mistake the child consumes a few biscuits just one hour before the operation. The surgeon played by Kay Kay Menon should have either postponed the surgery or made use of an instrument called riles tube to pump out the contents of the boy’s stomach before conducting the surgery. He does neither and the child dies.
What follows is a gripping drama of lies, deceit and cover-up by the surgeon and the brilliant court room scenes where Paoli unmasks this killer bit by bit. She may not be a well-known actress but Paoli comes up with a superb performance and gives the entire proceeding the necessary gravitas. Wonder why this medical thriller based on a real-life incident did not get the kind of publicity and popularity when it was released in 2013 which Talvar, also based on a real life incident had managed to garner recently.
Sushmita Sen as Defence Lawyer Neeti Khanna in Main Aisa Hi Hoon (2005)
In this film, Ajay Devgn plays an autistic man and Sushmita Sen as his defence lawyer helps him to get custody of his seven year old daughter. His wife Esha Deol had run away as soon as she gave birth to their baby and after some years commits suicide due to depression. But before she dies she writes to her father Anupam Kher, informing him that she has had a daughter and requests him to embrace both her husband and her child. But arrogance and anger clouds Anupam Kher’s judgement and he files a case for custody of his granddaughter and is out to prove that Ajay is an incapable father.
Sushmita Sen displays amazing poise and dignity and comes up with a very mature and convincing performance. The scene towards the end where she appeals to the judge asking him to think with his heart is very well done and her acting is very good. Really one cannot help but wonder why our industry could never come up with strong characters for talented actresses like her.
Kareena Kapoor as Defence Lawyer Priya Malhotra in Aitraaz (2004)
Here Kareena Kapoor plays the defence lawyer who defends her husband Akshay Kumar. His ex-girlfriend Priyanka Chopra wrongly accuses him of a rape attempt because he thwarts her advances and refuses to have a physical relationship with her to satisfy her sexual fantasies. In a bid to take revenge and teach him a hard lesson for having hurt her ego, he is asked to resign from the company of which she is the Managing Director and her husband Amrish Puri the owner.
Though Kareena’s scenes as a lawyer are restricted to only the last half-hour of the film, she comes up with a brilliantly restrained and dignified performance where she shows her real mettle as one of the finest actresses in our industry.
Rani Mukherjee as Defence Lawyer Saamiya Siddique inVeer Zara (2004)
Shah Rukh Khan gets framed wrongly on charges of being an Indian spy and ends up languishing in a Pakistani jail for 22 years before he meets Rani Mukherjee who decides to take up his case. She is determined to exonerate him, restore his name and identity, and return him to his country. Though she enters the film only in the second half, her courtroom scenes are laced with a lot of emotion and form the highlight of the film. She comes up with a memorable performance.
Mita Vashisht as Advocate Kalyani in Phir Milenge (2004)
Shilpa Shetty is a young professional working in an advertising agency and shares intimate relations with her boyfriend Salman Khan. Unfortunately after one such encounter she tests positive for HIV and when the word spreads around, her world turns upside down as she is removed from her job by unfair means. Angered by this turn of events, she files a case against her boss and here the boss is represented by defence lawyer Mita Vashisht.
Though she has very few scenes as a lawyer, she does a wonderful job in her brief role and lends the required natural touch to the proceedings.
Simi Garewal as Public Prosecutor in Insaaf Ka Tarazu (1980)
A film unanimously considered to be ‘unique and outstanding’ for the mature way in which the subject of rape was dealt with, it has riveting court room scenes laced with powerful dialogues and brilliant performances from one and all. A rich and famous businessman, Raj Babbar in a fit of rage and jealousy rapes a top model-cum-beauty-queen Zeenat Aman in her own apartment. In the absence of any incriminating evidence against him or any witness to prove his heinous crime, Simi Garewal as Zeenat’s lawyer is unable to nail him and he manages to get away without any punishment.
Both Zeenat Aman and Simi Garewal have given their career-best performances in the film. In the role of the Public Prosecutor Simi is simply astonishing. The amount of conviction and honesty she brings to the role is indescribable and it can be said without hesitation that this is perhaps the best role written till today for a female lawyer.
Smita Patil as Public Prosecutor/Defence Lawyer Rajni in Aaj Ki Awaaz (1984)
Raj Babbar with the help of public prosecutor Smita Patil files a case of rape against Dalip Tahil but she loses the case because of false testimony given in his favour by a top Minister. Dalip Tahil escapes and to teach Raj Babbar a lesson, enters his house with many other goons, ties him to a chair and in front of his eyes not only ruthlessly kills his mother but six of them rape his sister repeatedly and kill her. Raj Babbar decides to take the law into his hands by tracking down every person associated with the dastardly act and ends up committing a chain of murders and then surrenders himself to the police.
At this stage, Smita Patil acts as his defence lawyer to plead justice on behalf of the man who had to resort to violence only because he did not get justice initially and the rapist was allowed to go scot-free. Powerful courtroom scenes with a superb performance from Smita Patil are the highlights of this film.I must add that it felt a little strange to accept Raj Babbar in this role after seeing him play a cold-blooded rapist in Insaaf Ka Tarazu.
Rekha as Public Prosecutor Shakuntala Devi in Mujhe Insaaf Chahiye (1983)
Rekha plays a public prosecutor who puts a case on Mithun Chakravorthy, the spoilt son of a rich industrialist, Danny Denzongpa. He pursues Rati Agnihotri, a small town girl, makes false promises of marrying her, tricks her into having sex with him and ends up getting her pregnant. When confronted with the truth, he not only refuses to accept the child as his but also completely disowns Rati and ends up marrying an upper-class rich girl Ranjeeta.
Rekha fights on behalf of Rati to get the due rights of the child as the son of Mithun and forces the family to accept the child as their rightful heir. Rekha shines as a lawyer in the courtroom battle and gives a superb performance.
Priya Rajvansh as Defence Lawyer Karuna in Kudrat (1983)
This is a film based on re-incarnation and has an interesting story-line wherein Raj Kumar is accused of having raped and murdered Hema Malini in her previous birth. In the current birth the images keep flashing in her mind until she finally comes face to face with him and remembers everything. Rajesh Khanna who had been her lover in her previous birth also, plays the prosecutor while Priya Rajvansh who plays Raj Kumar’s daughter is the defence lawyer.
The last 45 minutes of the film are devoted to some engaging courtroom scenes. Pitted against superstar Rajesh Khanna, Priya does manage to hold her own and comes up with a creditable performance. The case is shown to be evenly matched till the end when there is an unusual twist of proceedings and the case takes an unexpected turn.
Suchitra Sen as Defence Lawyer Suparna in Mamta (1966)
This film has Suchitra Sen in a memorable double role playing both mother and daughter. By a quirk of fate the older Suchitra Sen is separated from her lover Ashok Kumar and gets married to an alcoholic. She becomes a ‘devdasi’ and her daughter is brought up by Ashok Kumar without letting her know the identity of her mother. Circumstances take a nasty turn and Suchitra Sen is forced to kill her alcoholic husband who has now turned a blackmailer also.
Meanwhile the daughter following in Ashok Kumar’s footsteps grows up to be a lawyer. The last scene of the film which is both emotional and impactful has the daughter Suchitra Sen as the defence lawyer pleading her mother’s case and she comes up with a splendid performance which leaves the audience stunned.
Hema Malini as Public Prosecutor Seema in Dard (1981)
This film is a remake of the 1960 classic Mamta with a few alterations in the script the most important being the role reversal of the protagonists. Instead of the mother and daughter angle, here the story revolves around father and son duo with the double role being essayed by Rajesh Khanna. Ashok Kumar’s role as a lawyer in the former is reprised by Hema Malini in the latter.
The film starts with a court scene where Hema Malini as public prosecutor gets the ‘father’ Rajesh Khanna mistakenly imprisoned for a murder he has not committed. Years later in another case, she acts as his defence lawyer and pleads innocence blaming the unfortunate circumstances which lead him to commit the crime. Though the film could not match up to the classic Mamta in terms of treatment and direction, Hema Malini suits the role beautifully. She plays the role with great aplomb and lends a graceful dignity to her character.
Mala Sinha as Defence Lawyer Shanti in Pooja ke Phool (1964)
The last 45-minutes of the film are devoted to some interesting and dramatic courtroom scenes and the confrontation between Mala Sinha who plays defence lawyer and her father Ashok Kumar who plays public prosecutor is one of the highlights of the film. Dharmendra is charged with the murder of an unknown young woman who travels all the way from the city to a small village where she is killed and thrown off a small cliff in the village. In order to protect his sister’s husband Pran, who is the actual murderer, Dharmendra takes up the blame on himself. Mala Sinha does a splendid job and proves her versatility as an accomplished actress of her time.
Point to ponder: Both in Dard as well as Pooja ke Phool our heroes take it upon themselves to mislead the investigation of a murder and mess up with the judicial inquiry by taking the blame on themselves. Not only do they tell lies but also decide that the sister in question should continue to live with a murderer and pretend that nothing untoward has happened. How on earth do they expect their sisters to live happily with murderers and where is the guarantee that more such murders won’t be committed? Further, they are never shown to get punishment for tampering with evidence and committing perjury in the court.
Sharmila Tagore as Public Prosecutor in Badnaam Farishtey (1971)
It was by sheer luck that I came across this unheard of film Badnaam Farishtey while browsing through some YouTube videos. The movie delves into the circumstances which force twelve young unemployed honest young men from small towns to embark on the path of thieving, dishonesty, looting etc. While Sharmila Tagore as the public prosecutor appeals for severe punishment to these young men to teach them a lesson for becoming a menace to the society, Rajesh Khanna as their defence lawyer pleads with the judge to consider the human aspect blaming the corrupt society, unfortunate circumstances and tragic incidents which force them to take this recourse and calls them ‘Badnaam Farishtey’ who need to be given a second chance in society.
The full film is a series of courtroom scenes with the incidents being shown in flashbacks. Though Sharmila Tagore comes up with a convincing performance, it is certainly a mystery as to why these two stars ever agreed to be part of such a B-grade film with third-rate production values and a dull team of actors. But for this blog it was a good film to write about…
Nargis as Defence Lawyer Rita in Awaara (1951)
This is perhaps one of the earliest instances of a female lawyer being shown in our cinema. The film starts with the courtroom scene where Nargis walks in to announce that she is going to defend Raj Kapoor in this case much against the wishes of Prithviraj Kapoor-the father-like figure who had brought her up. The film then proceeds to unfurl in a flashback with Nargis relating the story of Raj Kapoor’s life.
After this, the courtroom scene is shown only towards the fag end of the film where Nargis pleads before the judge to take into consideration the horrendous circumstances which turn young boys into criminals and in this case, blames his father, Prithviraj Kapoor for abandoning his son at the time of birth. Needless to say, Raj Kapoor’s direction is flawless and Nargis’s acting simply brilliant. Such a gifted and natural actress like her is yet to be seen in Hindi Cinema.
There is a buzz that there is a role for a female lawyer in the upcoming biopic on cricketer Azharuddin titled Azhar. Slated to release later this year it has Emran Hashmi in the title role and either actress Nimrat Kaur or Lara Dutta is expected to play the role of the lawyer.