More-than-loosely based on the high-profile rape case involving fake godman Asumal Sirumalani Harpalani aka Bapu Asaram, the Zee5 filmunderlines how tough it is to seek justice when the accused is an influential public figure.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

By Mayur Lookhar

Having overheard the public prosecutor’s conversation demanding Rs10 crore from the accused’s camp, the rape victim’s father is searching for a new lawyer. Given the stakes, and the threat at hand, no marquee names in the region are likely to represent them. As it often happens in high profile cases, it is usually the humble local lawyers who represent the accuser.

In their first meet, P.C. Solanki [Manoj Bajpayee] tells the father of a road accident case involving a child where he was compelled to also file a case against the boy’s father for negligent road crossing. Would any rape victim’s father express confidence in such a lawyer? Karamveer [Jaihind Kumar] is speechless but he knows that he is unlikely to find an honest lawyer other than Solanki.

Some may accuse Solanki of being insensitive towards the victim’s parents, perhaps adding salt to their wounds. They aren’t mere hollow words though. It’s a reminder of how victims and their families often walk into the den of fake godmen like Baba [Surya Mohan Kulshrestha].  Writer Deepak Kingrani and director Apoorv Singh Karki use the art of subtlety to draw your attention to many pertinent points.

On one hand, the disclaimer mentions that this is a work of pure fiction. Then in the same disclaimer, it also mentions about taking inspiration from true events.  It’s crystal clear that this story is more-than-loosely based on the high-profile rape case involving fake godman Asumal Sirumalani Harpalani, once fondly revered as Bapu Asaram by his millions of followers. Harpalani isn’t the first, nor is he likely to be last such controversial godman.  Sadly, India has a history of producing few such bad eggs.  Solanki fears that if granted bail, this fake baba would flee to America.  Oh g-OSH! Get the pun/point.

With a title like Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai, it is very easy to assume Solanki as a one-man army. The title or the film is no celebration. It underlines the gigantic task in getting justice for the victim.  We agree that all it takes is one man, but in the context of this story, Solanki is the ONLY man who braves to fight for this girl, take on a powerful public figure. Just dig deep into the Asaram case and you’ll find how some of the biggest legal eagles, with affiliations to different political parties, defended the accused.

Solanki is brave but mindful of the risks, intimidation and the physical threat to him and his family. The deaths of few witnesses shake him. The only place where he can feel safe is the court. Or is it? One witness was stabbed right before him as Solanki stepped out of the court after another bail application of the accused was rejected. The man now moves in his scooter keeping an eye out for any threat lurking nearby.  A single parent, with a young boy, and an aging mother. Many would have wilted under the enormous pressure, but not this bandaa (man).

Where does Solanki then find the courage? Of course, he is a man of law, but so, too, were the few unfortunate dead witnesses. When you are taking on a man masquerading as god, it is the Gods who will protect you. Here’s the poor victim fearing for her dear ones, unsure whether is this fight worth it? Solanki motivates her telling the victim that she must stand tall in this long battle. If she breaks, then there is no hope. Yes, there will be obstacles, but this is the time to muster all courage and fight fearlessly.  Solanki ends the conversation with a Har Har Mahadev. The tone is perhaps reminiscent of a gosain. The collective chant by Solanki and the victim mirrors the Har Har Mahadev war cry by a thousand soldiers.

Solanki is rightly projected as a Shiv devout.  But he is no blind bhakt, like Baba’s followers. The closing arguments in the final court room battle might feel religious and less-law, but if the defence is pleading dogmatically that punishing Baba would be a strong blow to faith, then why should Solanki not counter that argument with a classic, vindicating Shiva-Raavan story?

We haven’t heard the original P.C. Solanki. Bajpayee adopts a peculiar tone, body language that is poles apart from your conventional Bollywood vakeel [lawyer] in an archetypal court room drama. Solanki may not be proficient in English speaking, but he knows his laws to the T.  Director Karki and Kingrani cleverly cite the importance of the POCSO Act, 2012 and other existing laws pertaining to such crimes. The laws are there. All a victim needs is courage, and hope for an honest lawyer like P.C. Solanki.

From the first frame to the last, Bajpayee delivers a masterclass for ages. Maybe he is omnipresent, but the story and screenplay literally demanded Solanki in every scene. The initials P.C have a magical legacy in this country. Manoj Bajpayee’s tour de force as P. C Solanki is nothing short of magic.

Bajpayee’s shadow looms large but the other principal characters too make their presence felt. Young Adrija Sinha comes likes a breath of fresh air. The writer and director are sensitive to the rape victim by simply addressing her as Su (or is it Nu?). Karki shows maturity in understanding the mindset of the victim and not over exposing her in the screenplay. Last year, we were moved by Pooja Pandey’s stellar show in Siya [2022]. Now Adrija shines in a similar avatar.   Come the final moments, the young Su is all alone. She has a stunned expression, few seconds later, the tears flow. Frame that last picture for that will be a ray of hope for the many Sus of the world.

Vipin Sharma often regales in negative roles. While the biggest legal eagles come and go, Sharma ji [Vipin Sharma] shamelessly defends his client – Baba. What good is a defence lawyer in a Bollywood film, if he doesn’t make the victim uncomfortable with insensitive examining? Vipin Sharma plays his part finely. 

Though an evil character, Surya Mohan Kulshrestha does a neat job in showcasing the debauchery of the fake godman.

Child artiste Gauransh Sharma is adorable as Solanki’s son. The father-son duo refers to each other as buddy. Priyanka Setia’s cop Chanchan Mishra is soft spoken. She has this stunned, fearful expression throughout the film.  Fathom this, here is a poor family reporting the rape of their daughter. The moment the accused is named, Chanchan is texting her boss, fearing whether they should file an FIR? Chanchan’s expression mirrors the dilemma that many such humble officers face whilst dealing with high profile criminal cases.

Director Karki stands out for his astute, sensitive, smart direction. He had earlier impressed us with the social drama Saas Bahu Achaar Pvt Ltd [2022] and Aspirants [2021].

In a film based on a true, poignant story, technical aspects come secondary. Karki’s lensman Arjun Kukreji does a fine job. Solanki hallucinating an attack whilst halting at the traffic signal is a fine watch. Bulk of the scenes are shot indoors. Another thing that caught our eye is how the accused is placed in a dock watching, listening to the court proceedings with the curtain around him. Then the final judgment is rightly passed in the jail as the court, police, government doesn’t want any arson on the streets.

Karki’s film is an eye opener for the nation to not follow any godmen/women blindly. It reveals how there never will be dearth of influential powerful people out to defend men like Asaram. Karki doesn’t knit pick here. Naturally, you can’t take real names. However, Karki and Kingrani are wise in not rubbing the three legal luminaries in the wrong way. Solanki himself is shown as a fan of two of these three men. But once the proceedings begin, he presents his arguments fearlessly, backed with all evidences. The writer and the director subtly question biases in other high-profile cases. Everyone, especially sycophant entertainment journalists should not equate an accused’s crime with his/her philanthropy. Is there any ‘banda’ filmmaker who would dare to expose their own?

The lone con in the film is the underwhelming song that plays to the opening credits. The rest is simply hard to ignore. Our closing comment is that this Zee5 film is a Manoj Bajpayee masterclass in a gripping satyameva jayate story.

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