Synopsis – A legal thriller that explores the uncertainty of the human mind.
My Take – Bollywood’s obsession with courtroom dramas continue with this latest ZEE5 original film release helmed by actor-writer-director Bugs Bhargava Krishna (Barot House, A Suitable Boy), which finds itself released online merely a week after the Pankaj Tripathi led legal drama series, Criminal Justice: Behind Closed Doors, made its debut on Disney+ Hotstar.
While the Apurva Asrani written series is superior in every aspect, after all it is an official adaption of a Peter Moffat creation, nevertheless, director Bhargava‘s film does manage to offer a subtlety written and a quite engaging court procedural that manages to maintain its twist and turn with minimal swag.
Sure, the film is very obviously inspired from one or more thrillers preceding it, especially Primal Fear (1996), which itself got an engaging unofficial Hindi remake in the form of Deewangee (2002), but as a writer Bugs Bhargava Krishna manages to add his own elements in order to steer the narrative in a fresh manner, turning the final product into an adequately tricky crime-legal thriller.
But what works most in favor of the film is its core cast, whose superlative performances take the 128 minute long narrative forward without losing a single ounce of interest.
The story follows Siddharth Jaisingh (Arjun Rampal), an ambitious and highly esteemed lawyer, who in order to grab a pledged parliament seat following the upcoming elections, takes up the task of defending the unassuming Veer Singh (Manav Kaul), a former securities officer and a popular social activist, who has been accused of sexually assaulting and murdering two poor migrant children and suspected of having killing a dozen others, over the period of last five years.
With shock and public sympathy in their favor, the current state government hoping to absolve their previous failings hire Amit Kumar (Anand Tiwari), a virtuous prosecutor to make sure that Veer is indicted of the crime at any cost. However, halfway through the trial, during his incarceration, when Veer is viciously beaten up by fellow prisoners leaving him in a state of severe trauma, Siddharth, Amit and preceding Judge Kishore Bhushan (Rajit Kapur) are forced to search for alternative approaches to tackle the case.
While some may find what follows as highly predictable, however, director Bugs Bhargava Krishna does well in regards to holding ones attention. What right off the bat earns brownies for the film is the unlike most Bollywood courtroom dramas, here, director Bugs Bhargava Krishna keeps the thunder and lightning, trumpets and drum rolls determinedly away, to deliver an appropriately understated, effectively low-key film. Every twist in this unusual tale is dramatic but presented without melodrama, all enhanced by Sanjay Wandrekar‘s background score.
What makes the film also different is the extension of the psychological condition previously seen or used. Through writing, the familiar trope is upgraded. The debate here is body versus the mind, and who deserves to be punished.
Sure, there are many unanswered questions at the end. But the polished spin that writer-director Bugs Bhargava Krishan brings to the courtroom drama is welcome and refreshing. The courtroom where Veer Singh, a decorated ex-soldier and now a sports coach, is tried for the sordid sexual assault and gruesome murder of little children, is very different from the courtrooms that we’ve grown used to watching.
Though it does not dwell at great length on sexual violence, but the mere acknowledgement of an area of violence usually left untouched by Hindi cinema is significant. It does not deliver a scientific thesis on mental health either, but by not misinforming the public in the way too many Hindi films have done in the past, it serves an important purpose.
That said the film needed to be more tightly edited to be a better beast, and could have done with the trimming of the unnecessary subplots. The tracks involving the judge facing issues at home with his alcoholic wife (Madhoo), Siddharth still reeling from psychological issues with his deceased father, and the family life of Amit Kumar, all encompass into nothing by the end, and the song thrown into the mix in the last half an hour also adds to the drag.
Nevertheless, what keeps the film actually ticking till the very end are the consistently good performances. From the moment this legal drama enters the psychological thriller zone, the responsibility of holding it together is thrust on the able shoulders of its seasoned cast. Arjun Rampal is a notch above the routine and rattles the courtroom rhetoric with just the right tone, proving once again why he is a fine actor who deserves to be more on the screen. Anand Tiwari and Rajit Kapur are also in fine form making the whole legal wrangle look believable.
However the film belongs to Manav Kaul, who deserves to be singled out for his exceedingly subtle enactment of a role that might easily have been reduced to a certain kind of Bollywood cliché but in his hands is not. While Kaul is subdued as Veer and even showers us with hints of his guilt or innocence, it is hard to see the truth behind his piercing eyes, but as Charu, he is convincing and catches undivided attention at every moment with his unique mannerisms.
While Madhoo is fine in an underwritten role, gorgeous newcomer Samreen Kaur manages to leave a strong mark with her flawless performance. On the whole, ‘Nail Polish’ is an intriguing courtroom thriller that is a smartly handled and very well-acted.
Directed – Bugs Bhargava Krishna
Rated – NR
Run Time – 128 minutes