Though we may not consciously be aware of it, legal dramas often rely on shorthand that is readily understood by people who live within the legal system depicted, but which may not be so accessible to people who live outside it. That’s not a flaw of these works of fiction, but an acknowledgement that they may work better for some audiences than others.
That’s my issue with Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai (referred to by its nickname Bandaa henceforth). Manoj Bajpayee gives another sterling performance, but the story is a little confusing to those who don’t understand the legal terms and references used in the film.
Set in 2013 in Jodhpur, the courtroom drama focuses on a case in which a powerful spiritual leader is accused of molesting a 16-year-old girl. The date of the crime is significant because it happens a year after the passing of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act, commonly known by the acronym POCSO. The Act widened the ranged of prosecutable offenses that could fall under the umbrella of abuse from a previously narrow definition with lots of loopholes.
With the law being relatively new — and with such an influential, well-funded defendant — the girl’s family needs an attorney who understands POCSO law and is impervious to bribery. That man is P. C. Solanki (Manoj Bajpayee). Despite threats to him and his family and devious legal tactics from the opposition, Solanki persists in pursuing justice for the wronged girl.
Bandaa is a straightforward courtroom drama that focuses on the procedural details of the case. It’s an interesting introduction to the Indian legal system. But without full context, the stakes don’t feel as high as they might to someone more familiar with the system. There is a lot of wrangling over properly-filed paperwork and charges that, while effective in showing Solanki’s ability to think on the fly, isn’t in itself especially riveting.
Most problematic is the fact that the characters use the acronym POCSO from very early in the story, but it’s not explained until almost 45 minutes in. Thanks to Bandaa being a streaming-exclusive release, I was able to pause the film and look up the acronym on Wikipedia. It was convenient, but not conducive to getting immersed in the flow of the story.
Again, this will likely not be a problem for the majority of the intended audience, who are already familiar with the Indian legal system. However, based on my own level of familiarity, it prevented an obstacle to my full investment.
Manoj Bajpayee is wonderful as Solanki. The easy way in which he thwarts his opponents inside the courtroom is offset by the vigilance he must maintain outside of it due to the defendant’s dangerous followers.
As much fun as it is to watch Bajpayee command the screen, the girl at the center of the case — Nu (Adrija Sinha) — deserves a more prominent place in the story. Little time is spent on her struggles, not just with the dangers of pursuing the court case but the emotional fallout from the assault. She shows up periodically so that Solanki can tell her to be strong — which is a harder task than the film makes it seem.
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