Under Section 375, the Indian Penal Code clearly defines rape as “sexual intercourse with a woman against her will, without her consent, by coercion, misrepresentation or fraud or at a time when she has been intoxicated or duped, or is of unsound mental health and in any case if she is under 18 years of age.”
This is one of a handful of sections under which film director Rohan Khurana (Rahul Bhatt), accused of rape by Anjali Dangle (Meera Chopra), is found guilty and sentenced to 10 years jail time, in the film Section 375.
Director Ajay Bahl efficiently shows us Anjali’s modest life. Her job as a junior costume designer brings her into contact with Khurana on that fateful day. Bahl doesn’t hold back the punches when we observe the ignominy of a survivor answering a direct line of questioning by a medical examining officer filing a rape report: Have you been sexually active? Did you resist? What was your position?
Khurana’s wife enlists the services of a highly successful lawyer to appeal the sentence. Tarun Saluja (Akshaye Khanna), a senior advocate in the High Court, believes “justice is abstract; law is a fact”. He’s also clear that Khurana’s high-paying case will facilitate his pro bono work. He dives into the case, exploring every facet and positing in order to create reasonable doubt.
Prosecutrix Hiral Gandhi (Richa Chadha), a straight-shooting lawyer and Saluja’s protégé, takes charge of Anjali’s case. She banks heavily on the survivor’s testimony. Saluja is pragmatic. “We are not in the business of justice, we are in the business of law,” he says. Gandhi is less cynical and believes that justice needs to be served.
Manish Gupta’s screenplay takes flight with the courtroom drama. The dialogue is loaded with detail and fact. The verbal jousting between the opposing lawyers, tackling a high profile case that is built on a reformed investigative process and interpretation of new laws, is balanced by the two-judge bench (played astutely by Kishore Kadam and Krutika Desai) that sharply brings the lawyers back on track.
Chadha and Khanna play off each other very well as off-court friends and in-court rivals in Section 375. The latter’s arrogance and confidence is offset by the former’s inexperience and idealism. As they spar in the court, Bahl also captures public outrage and the trial by social media being conducted outside the stone building in his film.
Unfortunately we don’t see Gandhi applying any rigour while building her case. It’s also a shame that while Khurana’s wife and Saluja’s wife offer support and serve as a moral compass, Gandhi’s husband is painted as somewhat chauvinistic and irrelevant. Among the performances, Meera Chopra is the weak link. She neither evokes sympathy nor does she have the skills to walk the fine line of ambiguity.
The cinematography and editing serve to keep Section 375 moody and moving at a decent pace. With Gupta’s fine writing, Section 375 does not take a shrill, moralistic stand. It also does not cave to Bollywood-ised courtroom hysteria (don’t expect grand chants of ‘Milord’), sticking to a highly charged narrative that nimbly looks at both sides of the case and, ultimately, defers to the rule of law.