(Warning: spoilers ahead.)
In Raees, the titular character (Shah Rukh Khan) is described with the phrase “Baniye ka dimaag aur Miyan bhai ki daring”, conveying that he is both intelligent and a risk-taker. Rahul Dholakia’s movie unfolds in Gujarat in the 1980s – the state most commonly associated with a general prohibition on liquor. Raees earns his name and catchphrase by showing his ingenuity and skill in the illegal bootlegging trade. This requires him to outsmart not only his enemies, but also the law. Like with most movies with an anti-hero, his ability to hoodwink the law adds to his legend.
But how accurate is the portrayal of the law that Raees flouts with ease? In most Bollywood movies of this type, accuracy in depicting legal procedures is not really a prerequisite for critical acclaim (Pink being a notable exception). How does Raees fare in this regard?
Raees, like many Salim-Javed movies of the 1970s starring Amitabh Bachchan, introduces us to Raees as a child. The scene in which he warns the local bootlegger of an impending police raid cements his reputation early on as a quick thinker. But can the police raid any premises, as shown in the movie? Actually, they can. Section 120 of the Gujarat Prohibition Act allows any police officer to enter and inspect premises if they suspect that any intoxicant is kept there. The Act allows them to break open any door and remove any obstacle to their entry to such premises.
In the movie, the law is represented by various police officers of different ranks, but the main antagonist is Majmudar (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). Majmudar is a fascinating character, who lacks the usual personal demons or haunting memories that motivate his vendetta against crime. He is just a police officer who wants to do his job. The scene that establishes his credentials as the anti-bootlegging crusader is the one in which he waylays trucks of alcohol on a highway and orders the destruction of the seized bottles. While the visual of Majmudar driving a road roller over thousands of bottles is cinematically impressive, it is legally inaccurate. According to Section 101 of the Gujarat Prohibition Act, only the Collector, the court or anyone else specifically appointed for this purpose can order the destruction of confiscated articles.
Throughout the movie Raees and Majmudar play a cat and mouse game. Whenever it seems like Majmudar has Raees caught in a spot, Raees gets away due to his influence and the politicians who patronise him. Most often, this is achieved by transferring Majmudar to different places.
When it appears that Majumdar has come too close for comfort, Raees requests his political allies to take the officer out of the equation. Majmudar is transferred to the police control room, where it is hoped he will rot along with old police case files. This doesn’t work out too well for Raees, as Majmudar uses the equipment in the control room to tap his phone and this, in a big way, contributes to Raees’s downfall.
But is tapping into someone’s private communication so straightforward? No: while Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act 1885 allows both the central and state governments to tap phones, there is a procedure and guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court that must be followed. An application must first be given to the Home Secretary, in which the reasons and the need for phone tapping must be mentioned. If the phone-tapping is authorised, it must be reviewed by a separate committee within a week.
In fact, Majmudar could end up in trouble, since Section 25 of the Telegraph Act punishes unauthorised tampering.
In the second half of the movie, we see the downfall of Raees. His political allies decide that he has become too hot to handle, and Raees lands up in jail, finally without any political protection. This is when he realises that the only way to make himself untouchable is to enter politics. By this stage, he is already well established as a messiah and as someone who uses the proceeds from his crimes to give back to the poor. But can someone who is in jail contest elections? Yes, they can. The Representation of the People Act, 1951 deals with this. The law lays down the situations in which people are disqualified from contesting elections or from membership of an elected assembly. But a disqualification occurs only when you have been convicted for an offence. It would not apply to an undertrial, like Raees.
Being a crime thriller, many more legal aspects arise in Raees, from property zoning laws to the procedure for police encounters. Ignoring such nitty-gritties, Raees still manages to bring to life different facets of crime, politics, and law enforcement in India. Even though we may not think of them very often, all of these aspects have laws governing them, attempting to bring some order to the chaos.
Nyaaya.in, a free, open source for all Indian laws, is using Bollywood movies to try understand our laws better.