420 IPC(Zee5)

Starring Vinay Pathak, Ranvir Shorey, Rohan Vinod Mehra, Gul Panag

Written & Directed by Manish Gupta

Rating: ***

Our cinema is so starved of decent courtroom dramas that even a halfway decent product of the abused genre gives us reason to feel hopeful.

Manish Gupta’s 420 IPC is not India’s answer to The Trial Of The Chicago 7. But it keeps you interested to the end. And the court proceedings ring true, even when the script seems to be tilting to the south to get our attention.

This is a modestly-budgeted plot about a humble chartered accountant Bansi Keswani(Vinay Pathak) being tried for forgery and fraud. Pathak is a pastmaster at playing middleclass victims. This time the Common Man has some uncommon secrets. As layer after layer of the procedural subterfuge emerges, we are left looking at legalese at its most pulpy, and yet nonetheless engaging.

Pathak’s passivity is well played into the plot.Rohan Vinod Mehra as his young lawyer Birbal eager to score,is a refreshing change from the washed-out sozzled lawyers who normally take up such cases in our films to redeem themselves. Young Mehra gets into the earnest if somewhat sneaky, lawyer’s shoes and seems to respect his role to the fullest.

What I found a little unsettling was the way Birbal goes around gleaning information illegally by paying bribes .He even uses a young female cop for inside information. Every time they meet the background score softens.This is probably meant to underline the subtle romantic attachment between the two.However on the surface the music suggests a kind of legitimization of underhand tactics for the larger good, namely getting poor Bansi Keswani off the hook.

But the question is, how “poor” is our Keswani? The pacing is even, if uneventful. The performances carry the narrative forward. Besides Pathak and Mehra it is always a pleasure to see Ranvir Shorey at work specially when Pathak is around. This time Shorey is cast as the Parsi public prosecutor. The accent is a little distracting. But the three actors create an engaging triumvirate.

420 IPC is not without its flaws: for one, the government officers are shown to be bustling around trying to look important while billions are being siphoned off under their nose . The innocent are shown to be trapped in the web. But then what happens when the comfort of moral latitude is suddenly altered? What if the innocent are the actual perpetrators? Writer-director Manish Gupta should have examined this question ethics and national interest more closely. Sadly he just wants to hold our attention for 90 minutes. He gets it.