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Manoj Bajpayee elevates Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai from just another courtroom drama to a great one

Directed by Apoorv Singh Karki, the ZEE5 film is loosely based on a real-life court case on godman Asaram Bapu

Chandreyee Chatterjee Calcutta Published 13.06.23, 01:15 PM

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Picking a topic like the rape of a minor where the accused is a godman and making a film on it requires as much courage as sensitivity. One has to be careful of how one handles the topic for it to be impactful without being incendiary. The ZEE5 film Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai — directed by Apoorv Singh Karki — ticks all those boxes and a lot of the credit for it goes to Manoj Bajpayee, who plays a sessions court lawyer who fights the case on behalf of the minor.

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Loosely based on the case of self-styled godman Asaram Bapu that shook the nation in 2013, Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai is a David vs Goliath story unfolding in Jodhpur where Bajpayee’s P.C. Solanki takes up the case of Nu, a 16-year-old girl, raped by a well-connected and powerful Baba. As the name of the film suggests, the focus of the story is not the girl nor the godman but Solanki — the only name that remains unchanged in the screen adaptation of the Asaram Bapu case.

Just like Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s Pink, another courtroom drama that focuses on justice for a woman who takes on a well-connected individual for molestation, Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai doesn’t sensationlise the incident. Both in the way the film is shot and how much time it spends on the incident, the treatment is more like that of a docu-drama.

The actual courtroom procedure is handled with a lot of sensitivity, with even the defendant’s lawyer, played by Vipin Sharma, looking uncomfortable while having to ask for details about the incident. Not once does the case hearing lean into the lurid and thanks to the writing team for that.

Where Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai loses out to Pink is in withholding from focusing on the toll the incident and the long-drawn court battle take on Nu and her family. Given the powerful performance Adrija Sinha delivers as Nu from behind the dupatta — only her eyes are visible for most of the time — this was an opportunity missed.

Nu’s parents, portrayed by Jai Hind Kumar and Durga Sharma, are silent spectators and come across almost as bystanders, instead of people caught in a storm that the case stirs up. Except for one passing reference to the effect the case has on employment opportunities for Nu’s father, the film doesn’t delve into the personal, social or financial impact the five-year-long case has on the family. The passage of time is not reflected with the characters, especially Solanki’s son, hardly changing in any way.

Most of Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai happens within the walls of various courtrooms, from the sessions court to the Supreme Court. And in the courts it is hard to look away from Bajpayee, who is absolutely phenomenal. Not just because of the skewed writing — the writing is heavily skewed towards Bajpayee as the prosecution lawyer who seems to be the only one in court who has done his homework — but also because of how Bajpayee steps up and practically carries the film on his very able shoulders.

It really works in the film’s favour that Bajpayee’s Solanki is not shown as a woke atheist who takes on a godman. Instead, Solanki is very much a middle-class man who is an ardent Shiv bhakt. He is unafraid of facing off some of the biggest names in court — and we see the likes of Salman Khurshid, Subramaniam Swamy and Ram Jethmalani, of course with names changed, who fight on behalf of Baba — but he is also starstruck in their presence, making the character at once relatable and believable.

Like any other person, Solanki gets carried away in court and is immediately embarrassed by his outburst. His fear is palpable when the attacks begin on the witnesses, especially in the scene where a witness is shot right in front of court and when he is chased on his scooter.

Solanki’s relief every time he successfully prevents a bail plea feels very real, and Bajpayee is what transcends the film from nice to great. One of the best scenes of Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai is the one where Bajpayee tells Adrija’s Nu that the time has come for her to tie the dupatta, which she has been using to hide her face, around her waist and prepare for battle like Durga.

With Bajpayee doing the heavy lifting, Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai could have gone from great to really great if one could actually figure out why the case dragged on for five years, given how inane the arguments of the defendant’s bevy of lawyers were. Or if we could at least see a little bit of the girl whose life was turned upside down because of who she was taught to trust. Yet, even as it is, Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai is worth a watch.

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