Sirf Ek Banda Kaafi Hai reminds us that we haven't run out of instances where even the most vulnerable can secure justice against the mighty, applauds Utkarsh Mishra.
The Manoj Bajpayee-starrer Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai could not have been released at a more appropriate time.
It comes when India's Olympic medallists -- who have been protesting for months to get the Wrestling Federation of India president booked under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, or POCSO, and who had to go the Supreme Court to get their first information report registered -- are being dragged and detained by the police, who, as per the explanation of the Act by legal experts (external link), should have arrested the WFI chief instead.
Moreover, the guidelines (external link) issued by the Bureau of Police Research and Development, ministry of home affairs, to investigate sex crimes (including those covered under POCSO), say that 'all efforts should be made to arrest the suspect of the crime promptly'.
Therefore, while those fighting against a powerful accused, who has been booked for a serious crime on the direction of the Supreme Court, seem distraught and helpless right now,Sirf Ek Banda narrates the story of a case where justice, although difficult to get and can be called slightly delayed, was not denied.
The movie is primarily about the efforts of Jodhpur-based lawyer P C Solanki (played by Bajpayee) to get justice for the minor girl who accused self-proclaimed godman Asaram Bapu of sexual assault in 2013. The accused in the movie is only referred to as 'Baba'.
Apart from his exemplary courage and honesty, Solanki's fight for justice is aided by the stringent provisions of POCSO and the Juvenile Justice Act. Not surprisingly, the godman's defence was keen to get charges under these Acts dropped to make it easier for him to get bail.
In his book God of Sin: The Cult, Clout and Downfall of Asaram Bapu, journalist Ushinor Majumdar details Solanki's struggles in fighting this high-profile case.
Majumdar writes, 'Some months before the sexual assault took place, he (Solanki) had conducted a session on the POCSO law for recruits at a police training academy. By the time the case was over, he knew every comma and full stop of the law and why it was there.'
The movie aptly displays Solanki's command over the law, which he used to prevail over legal luminaries such as Ram Jethmalani, Subramanian Swamy and Salman Khurshid. Although the movie only features characters similar to the trio (not with their real names but you can identify them once you see them), the other legal giants against whom Solanki had to argue included Soli Sorabjee, K T S Tulsi, Mukul Rohatgi, Raju Ramachandran, and Siddharth Luthra.
The fact that a 'low-profile' lawyer like Solanki could convince the court every time to decide in his favour rather than these heavyweights also speaks volumes about the power of these laws to ensure justice if they are used correctly.
For example, as per Section 29 of the POCSO Act, there is a presumption of guilt against the accused. Which means that the accused have the obligation to prove that they are not guilty, rather than the reverse.
Similarly, the specific details about the kind of documents needed to prove the age of a victim also helped in this case, where the major focus of defence was to prove that the prosecutrix was not a minor when the alleged incident took place.
But having the law on one's side doesn't ensure justice all the time.
That is where people like P C Solanki step in, who make it a mission of their life to secure justice for the hapless victims of a powerful accused.
Having read Majumdar's account of Solanki's fight in this case and his personality in general, I can confidently say that Bajpayee has done full justice to the role. Not just the arguments in courtrooms, but minute aspects of Solanki's life and family are also shown in remarkable detail.
Another aspect where the movie wins is showcasing the challenges an average income, middle class person faces in getting justice. They not only involve disruption of the person's normal life but can very well lead to loss of livelihood and even life.
Not just for the victims and their families, but also for the witnesses, their lawyers and even investigating officers. The movie shows how multiple witnesses in the case were attacked or murdered. How some were bribed to turn hostile. And how, even the lawyers were offered handsome amounts to reach a settlement.
The scenes where the victim and her parents are cross-examined, or where Bajpayee fears an attempt on his life are dripping with tension.
They are rightly intimidated, but it is their courage and conviction that drives them to keep fighting.
In fact, the assaults on the victims in this case was the reason why the Witness Protection Scheme, 2018 came into existence.
One could, therefore, argue that was it suitable to name the movie Sirf Ek Banda Kaafi Hai because it is clearly not just one man's struggle?
After all, one must respect the grit a minor girl showed in face of such gruelling circumstances. The support she got from her family is also absent in most such cases where family members try to hush things up for fear of society.
Then there were the police personnel, who first registered the FIR and then undertook the daunting mission of arresting the godman from his den, where he had thousands of followers who were ready to throw themselves in front of police vehicles.
Lastly, another Jodhpur-based lawyer P K Verma was also representing the victim in the case, along with Solanki. Whereas the movie shows Solanki alone making all the arguments, including some of those that were originally made by Verma.
But I don't think that the title is completely out of place because if not for Solanki's exceptional command over POCSO and Juvenile Justice Acts, the case could have been very easily crumbled in the court despite the efforts of everyone mentioned above.
Hence, this case will always be an inspiration for what can be achieved if everyone does their duties properly, without fear or favour, a fact that is fittingly shown in the movie.
Therefore, while we may be staring at a bleak picture right now, Sirf Ek Banda reminds us that we haven't run out of instances where even the most vulnerable can secure justice against the mighty.