There was a time midway through the first decade of the new millennium when Vinay Pathak and Ranvir Shorey starred together in a series of films – Khosla Ka Ghosla, Mixed Doubles, Bheja Fry, Mithya – that stood out for the way the characters they played and their interactions highlighted the everydayness of middle-class life in an era marked by Karan Johar-Sooraj Barjatya excesses and opulence. They reminded one of an earlier time involving, say, an Amol Palekar and Deven Verma.
Add Gul Panag in a deglamourised role (harking back to a Dor or a Manorama Six Feet Under) to the mix, and you have in 420 IPC a film that echoes the intimate indie outings of a couple of decades ago. It may not be as accomplished as a Khosla Ka Ghosla or a Mithya, and it may be too subdued in its aesthetics to register as ‘cinematic’ in the way we understand the term, but there’s something spiffy about it that makes it work despite its shortcomings.
Bansi Keswani (Vinay) is your amiable, regular chartered accountant servicing his clients. When we first meet him, he is with a high-profile one, the deputy director of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA). Back home, we hear from his wife, Pooja (Gul), that the bank has been calling for non-payment of the EMI due on his house and threatening to take it over.
Soon after, we have a CBI raid on his house even as he protests that he is on the brink of bankruptcy. It turns out that the MMRDA client has been siphoning off money on a flyover project, and Keswani is suspected of having a hand in it. Though he is cleared of misconduct this time round, soon enough, he finds himself in deeper waters as he is charged with forging three cheques totalling Rs 1.5 crore from another well-heeled client, a real-estate developer Neeraj Sinha (Arif Zakaria). He is taken into judicial custody, and the legal proceedings begin.
Ranged against him is seasoned public prosecutor Savak Jamshedji (Ranvir), all slicked-back hair and entitled arrogance, while newbie Birbal Chaudhury (Rohan Mehra, son of yesteryear actor Vinod Mehra) is called upon to defend Keswani. The pleasures of Manish Gupta’s (the director helmed the 2019 film Section 375, which too involved a similar courtroom faceoff) screenplay lie in the way he takes his time peeling away the layers of a convoluted scam and, with it, that of the characters.
Is Bansi really the much-wronged everyman? Vinay’s unassuming presence adds a delectable twist to the question. And how much of a novice Birbal really is, given that he has no compunctions manipulating his police sources for information, using hacker friends to extract data and employing any means, unethical and illegal, to win his case. The courtroom proceedings also become a tool to examine social equations and powerplay between the privileged and the not-so.
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The courtroom drama could well have done with, well, some more drama and energy. And one wishes there was more of Vinay and Ranvir (both actors we have seen little of in the last few years). Then there are the repetitive dialogues – a character says, ‘Woh faraar ho gaya’ and immediately follows it up with an English equivalent, ‘He is absconding,’ just in case the viewer missed it the first time round.
These quibbles apart, the narrative is engrossing enough, the moral centres of the characters ambiguous enough, and the director knows how to play his cards intriguingly enough even if not dramatically so to make 420 IPC well worth a watch.
TITLE: 420 IPC
CAST: Vinay Pathak, Ranvir Shorey, Gul Panag, Rahul Vinod Mehra, Arif Zakaria
DIRECTOR: Manish Gupta
RATING: 2 and 1/2 stars
(Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri is an award-winning publisher, editor and a film buff)
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