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Section 375

Rating: 3.5

September 13, 2019

Cast: Akshaye Khanna, Richa Chadha, Meera Chopra, Rahul Bhat, Kishore Kadam, Kruttika Desai, Sree Swara

Director: Ajay Bahl

Section 375, starring Akshaye Khanna and Richa Chadha, is either a deeply cynical, borderline misogynistic film that takes the MeToo movement back a few steps, or it is an uncomfortable but honest study of male privilege, the abuse of power, and the politics of consent. However you may choose to look at it, the film is an unmistakably compelling courtroom drama.

Bollywood director Rohan Khurana (Rahul Bhat) is arrested and convicted by a sessions court after assistant costume designer Anjali Dangle (Meera Chopra) accuses him of rape. In the High Court, hotshot criminal lawyer Tarun Saluja (Akshaye Khanna) works hard to punch holes in the accuser’s claims. Insisting that it’s a case of an affair gone sour, he points out that the law does not regard consensual physical relations as rape. The prosecutor, meanwhile, Hiral Gandhi (Richa Chadha), a fiery, idealistic lawyer fighting her first big case, refuses to call it anything but rape, demanding that justice be served.

The back and forth between the lawyers is thoroughly engaging, and it’s refreshing that we get judges that feel like real people, not the impenetrable stereotypes that Hindi films have repeatedly thrown at us. The timing of the film is especially interesting, coming on the heels of the MeToo movement. Is the film adding to the noise of those that believe rape laws are being misused by women? That’s something you must decide for yourself, depending on how you view the film.

But to be fair director Ajay Bahl and writer Manish Gupta have fashioned a sharp, thought-provoking drama that is very conscious of the times it’s set in. Public outrage, social media momentum, sensitivity towards rape survivors – the film ticks off all the boxes. Not all of it is easy to watch, though. There are close ups of body parts and wounds that feel exploitative and voyeuristic. The final twist too may throw you off, depending, again, on how you’ve been reading the film.

Through it all, the acting is consistently good. The film is cast well, from smaller roles like Kishore Kadam and Kruttika Desai as the two judges on the case, to Rahul Bhat who does well as the arrogant director. Richa Chadha goes all guns blazing despite an underwritten role, and Akshaye Khanna brings a wily charm to his role as the defence lawyer who puts the law above his own moral compass and everything else. The film gives him some of the best lines and the grandstanding moments, and he makes a meal of it.

Frankly I left the cinema not entirely sure how I felt about what the film was saying. It’s a well-made film with a persuasive argument that is nevertheless disturbing. I think you should decide for yourself. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Section 375.

(This review first aired on CNN News18)

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