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Dhananjoy – Trial by Audience

Dhananjoy (2017)

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Directed by: Arindam Sil

Cast: Anirban Bhattacharya, Mimi Chakraborty, Paran Bandyopadhyay, Sudipta Chakraborty, Anusha Viswanathan, Kanchan Mullick, Koushik Sen

Language: Bengali

A courtroom drama based on true story which, by the end, leaves the judgement of a high profile case to you. In criminal law there is a principle called the Blackstone formulation which states that: “It is better ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer” but as this movie points out injustice was served to an innocent.

In the year 1990 a case created a mass hysteria in Kolkata when a watchman, Dhananjoy Chatterjee (Anirban Bhattacharya) allegedly raped and murdered Hetal Parekh (Anusha Viswanathan), a school- going girl belonging to a Gujarati business family. The watchman was arrested and charged based on the circumstantial evidence. It was considered a rarest of rare case and thus he was convicted to be hanged. After serving a sentence of 14 years in Alipore Jail he was executed in 2004. He appealed in high court and Supreme court and even filed a mercy petition with the President maintaining his innocence till the day he was hanged. It was one of the most followed, studied and debated case at the time. The public, the media and even political parties joined the bandwagon from the first day and the general consensus was that “Dhananjoy did it”.

Now this movie which is based on the book Adalat-Media-Samaj Ebong Dhananjayer Fashi by Debashish Sengupta, Probal Choudhury and Paramesh Goswami, takes the defense of Dhananjoy, revisits the events and shows us what exactly was wrong with the investigation. It may not have successfully proven Dhananjoy to be innocent but creates enough doubt to make you feel that the death penalty was harsh and the evidence that had been presented was not conclusive.

The movie argues against death penalty and has the theme and structure similar to the movie Virumandi (a Kamal Hassan movie) which is also based on a convict on death row and the judgement is reserved with the watching audience. This movie has two halves: where the first half shows what happened and portrays the protagonist as a beast capable of committing such a heinous crime, the second half undoes everything and brings a new angle. And aptly there is a mention of the famous book the Trial by Franz Kafka where K’s fight is with the invisible Law and the untouchable Court and in case of Dhananjoy it is with the public and the media. The machinery has been set in motion with the information coming in from newspapers and from there on its going to roll to a conclusion despite all logical reasoning. One reason why public was against would have been because of Indira Gandhi assassination in 1984. It was viewed that Dhananjoy was a protector just like the two guards and ended up taking her life.

Anirban Bhattacharya has given an extra ordinary performance in his titular role- although he is in only for the first half, but he creates such an impact that the movie till end still belongs to him. Also impactful is Paran Bandyopadhyay as Soshi Babu, Dhananjoy’s father- his act of losing sanity after the hanging of Dhananjoy is for me the scene of the movie which moves you and brings out rage towards the injustice meted out. Sudipta Chakraborty as Surabhi Parekh, mother of Hetal is also good with her flawless Gujju accent and her inquietude while discovering her daughter in that state is also one of the highlights of the movie. Mimi Chakraborty is good but during her part it is the script which keeps it moving so you kind of loose focus from her.

The movie’s brilliance lies in the fact that as in reality the case was decided by media (court just toed the public sentiment) here also the judgement lies with the audience. The probing screenplay is like Gulzar’s Talwar but just more unambiguous than it.

Arindam Sil has made a wonderful movie which remains focused on its target of trying to commute the sentence of death penalty and does  justice to the painstaking research of the book.

Watch it as the script is intriguing. If you don’t know Bengali then it could be a little difficult to understand as there are loads of dialogues in the second half.

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