Surprisingly the thing that lands the most in Ajay Bahl’s Section 375 is its gaze towards the ‘Me Too‘ and ‘Men Too‘ narrative. It is sensitive & balanced, and even though it does take a final side, it does not humanize or demonize the accused or the victim with unidimensional broad strokes. Bahl infact succeeds in creating an engaging courtroom drama, where both versions of a reported rape play out in a Rashomon style. And the narration has enough meat and logic for the audience or the judiciary bench to not take sides blindly at any time, or feel terribly compromised on wokeness, even if one may want to accuse the film of an unreasonable conscience. In fact, the film does well to lay out the distinctions between law and justice, and how both of them (especially the later) can get muddled by personal perspectives and biases.
What didn’t work well for me is the performances though. Meera Chopra is too one note and expressionless and somewhere the storytelling becomes somewhat exploitative of her to enact the proceedings rather than playing it out as matter of fact. Rahul Bhatt also leaves enough to be desired and one needed to extract much more from him to really get into the accused’s mind space. Hiral Gandhi is kept way too underwritten for what Richa Chaddha‘s range of craft, and somehow the screenplay deliberately plays out to show her as far more ineffective and perplexed than how she starts out in the film. My biggest disappointment however came from Akshaye Khanna. The fine actor that he is, he could have played Tarun Saluja more interestingly, with layers, than just being cocky. Rather the actor’s portrayal is primarily guided by an unnecessary, overdone smug and a hammy pompous arrogance throughout, while we are given superficial indications of many other sides of Saluja which remain majorly unexplored.
I wish there was more to like about Section 375. I wish it’s screenplay was tighter and played out as interestingly as Sudhir Mishra’s Inkaar. I wish the performances and other technical aspects were of the level of that film as well. I wish the final reveal was more convincing and less convenient. I wish one didn’t feel that the film ultimately compromised on courage and remained too cautious on its moral compass and voice of reasoning.
One may still go ahead and watch Ajay Bahl’s film since there are enough elements in it to challenge thoughts and raise questions on the devastating impact of physical vs. psychological assault aspects of the heinous crime, but it falls way short of being a benchmark film on the serious subject that it wants to make a bold point on. #MeToo or #MenToo, Section 375 doesn’t help being a clear and powerful voice of either of these relevant movements of today’s times. Sigh!