Two things work very well in Jolly LLB 2. One is the screenplay’s focus on extra-judicial killings by the police. The other is the return of Saurabh Shukla as the earthy and eccentric judge, his plump feet planted firmly on the ground and his heart in the absolutely right position. Shukla’s Justice Sunderlal Tripathi was the most compelling character in Subhash Kapoor’s Jolly LLB (2013), and he remains the highlight of the sequel. Tripathi is an unlikely poster boy for the Indian judicial system – he proves that it works even when it appears not to.
The rest of the film, though, is about as absorbing as the court proceedings of a long-drawn out case. Despite its liberal and humanist values and attempts to create a convincing portrait of the workings of the Indian legal system, Jolly LLB 2 is frequently guilty of dramatic overreach. Like its predecessor, Jolly LLB 2 suffers from sluggish pacing, an uneven tone (farce one minute, pathos the next), ludicrous twists, preachiness and an unfailing tendency to play to the gallery.
The formula that made Jolly LLB a hit in 2013 is regurgitated with a few tweaks. A no-good lawyer rises to the occasion after his conscience is pricked, and he moves heaven and earth for justice. His initial ineptitude makes him a near-pushover for the opposing fat-cat lawyer, but his good intentions, decency, and commitment to the truth win the day (along with shenanigans that are better suited to a Hindi movie than an actual courtroom).
Same plot, new circumstances, and a new cast. Akshay Kumar, who is currently in the middle of adding conscientious drama to his repertoire of action and comedy, plays the Jolly character previously portrayed by Arshad Warsi. Boman Irani’s smug advocate makes way for Annu Kapoor’s golf-playing barrister Mathur, who offers a rate card to clients alongside charging them for tea and airconditioning.
Jolly is the eighteenth assistant of one of Lucknow’s most respected legal minds. The son of a legal clerk, Jolly isn’t taken seriously, but the opportunity to redeem himself appears in the form of the pregnant Hina (Sayani Gupta). Her husband Iqbal (Manav Kaul) has been killed in a police encounter only because his name is the same as that of a Kashmiri terrorist. When Jolly files a public interest litigation demanding the indictment of police official Suryaveer Singh (Kumud Mishra), he seems to be biting off more than he can chew – especially when the police department hires Mathur to reduce the opposition to dust.
The contrivances begin early in a movie that has no shortage of them. Iqbal has been allowed to attend his nuptials and consummate his marriage before being murdered in cold blood the next morning. If Suryaveer Singh had wanted to kill Iqbal anyway, why did he allow him to attend his wedding in the first place? Was it only so that Hina could show up with a swollen belly? Would our hearts have not bled for her anyway?
In another ridiculous development, a witness is subjected to a narco-analysis test, whose results are taken at face value even though the procedure is not admissable as evidence in Indian courts (Bollywood, on the other hand, continues to believe in its veracity.)
Jolly’s wife Pushpa (Huma Qureshi), who exists in the movie only to prove that Lucknow women drink whisky and aspire to wear Gucci, justifies her presence by pointing out to Jolly a clue that he should have seen coming. Like the original Jolly, Akshay Kumar’s character doesn’t actually possess the legal smarts needed to win cases. But since he is a typical prodigal child of mainstream cinema, he wins by appealing to emotion. The cold logic of legal casework, which could be be dramatically rich in the right hands, is replaced by grandstanding aimed at evoking easy laughs.
The law can be an ass, and fiction often struggles to keep pace with fact in India. There’s a shorter, crisper and less-preachy legal satire nestled inside Jolly LLB 2, but such a satire cannot be delivered from the pulpit. Jolly LLB 2 is the kind of movie in which characters deliver punchy lines that draws whistles and applause from the screen characters, in the hope that the paying public will follow suit too.
To the credit of Kapoor and the marquee lead, Jolly retains his human dimensions. Akshay Kumar is typically endearing in his everyman role, and Annu Kapoor is suitably venal as his opponent, but both are defeated by Shukla’s Tripathi. The judge’s pragmatic definition of the law, unconventional courtroom behaviour, and no-nonsense attitude enliven the proceedings. In the case of Justice Sunderlal Tripathi versus the others, the defence and prosecution can both rest.