Munna Bhai MBBS, a huge hit in 2003, was a turning point for two of its supporting actors. Back then, very few had heard of Arshad Warsi or Boman Irani. Since then, each has carved out a distinct niche – Warsi as a sidekick with leading man charm, Irani as a versatile character actor for hire. Now, ten years after Munnabhai, Jolly LLB has the pair inhabiting the same character types that made them famous – the charming hustler and the obnoxious authority figure.
Jagdish Tyagi (Warsi), more commonly called Jolly, is a Meerut lawyer who comes to Delhi in search of fame and fortune. He finds neither, and in desperation, files a PIL in a case involving a rich businessman’s son mowing down six homeless people while driving drunk one night. He’s out of his depth, of course – arguing for the defence is top-flight advocate Tejinder Rajpal (Irani), the alleged vehicle is missing and the case has already been thrown out once. Still, he perseveres, first out of self-interest, and then because he’s grown a conscience.
Subhash Kapoor’s film, his second after the enjoyable Phas Gaye Re Obama, takes this promising setup and burdens it with every hokey contrast imaginable: small town versus big town, English-speaking versus Hindi-speaking, the integrity of the poor versus the callousness of the rich. Jolly, very predictably, turns into a crusader for the downtrodden, and the film compromises its satirical edge when it descends into preachiness. It might have been more impressive if Jolly managed a breakthrough or two through his own smarts – like Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny, a 1992 film which Jolly LLB bears a passing resemblance to. Too conveniently here, key evidence and witnesses seem to materialise as a reward for Jolly’s good intentions.
Yet, Jolly LLB is fitfully funny and engaging. Writer-director Kapoor’s training as a journalist stands him in good stead – he has an eye for strange details, like a judge sending a lovey-dovey SMS before she calls the court to order. The casting is immaculate. To the already potent Warsi-Irani tag team, Kapoor adds Saurabh Shukla as the presiding judge in the case. The scenes in court, with Warsi grinning sheepishly, Irani hyperventilating and Shukla firing ironic asides from the bench, are comic gold. If only the movie wasn’t constantly trying to impress its good intentions upon us. With Amrita Rao of the baleful gaze as Jolly’s girlfriend and conscience.
Review appeared in Time Out Delhi a while back. Forgot to post it here and, quite shockingly, no one reminded me.
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