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Kuldip Patwal: I Didn't Do It! review: Legal thriller that squanders its possibilities

Release Date: 02 Feb 2018 / Rated: U/A / 02hr 08min

Cinestaan Rating

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Shriram Iyengar

Remy Kohli's directorial debut is a muddled political diatribe disguised in an even more convoluted court case.

At one point during the crucial legal argument in Kuldip Patwal: I Didn't Do It!, the judge pulls up both the prosecution and the defence and says, "These political statements are great, but please limit your remarks to the case."

That about sums up the problem with Remy Kohli's directorial debut. An intriguing premise is lost in far too many political digressions and complications, leaving many unanswered questions on the screen.

The film begins with the murder of Varun Chadha (Parvin Dabas), chief minister of Baratsar. The man apprehended on the scene of crime, Kuldip Patwal (Deepak Dobriyal), maintains that he did not do it. But he is too poor and the crime too big to be shuffled under the carpet. So, it falls to do-gooder roughneck lawyer Pardhuman Shahpuri (Gulshan Devaiah) to prove his innocence. 

Patwal's journey begins as a poor student who is rejected from the administrative services owing to a change in reservation policy. The vegetable cart he buys is thrown off the streets because of the chief minister's decision to clean up the streets. He loses his children to the lack of ventilators in a government hospital (ahem!). 

Meanwhile, the chief minister himself is battling a corrupt system and trying to set things right. His modern, educated stance does not go down well with the coterie in his own party, while the public does not take to the sudden changes kindly either.

Thus, these two well-meaning men are brought into a fatal confrontation. But by introducing a conspiracy that involves the most obvious people, Remy Kohli creates unnecessary complications that muddle the film.

The film's premise is interesting, but it is the editing that leaves much to be desired. The narrative unfolds in non-linear fashion between past and present. Except, the timelines are far too distant. Eleven years, 18 months, nine months, and so on make repeated interjections in the plot.

As if these digressions were not enough, Kohli's film is heavy with political dialogue. Whether it is speaking against the systematic elimination of the poor, against caste-based reservations, or against the use of FDI (foreign direct investment) to fuel corruption, a number of issues find their way into the story. We are even introduced to Pardhuman as he argues a case against the government and private lobby grabbing the land of poor farmers.

One of the key conspirators in Kuldip Patwal's case is the owner of a pan-India company called Reliable Industries. The party of the chief minister is Bharatsar Rashtravadi Party (BRP). There is also the hint at the death of children owing to the lack of ventilators,reminiscent of last year's infamous case in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh. In one scene, the president of the Bharatsar party says, "Godhra, Bofors, Meerut, Babri, kisi ka hua kucch?", a reference to the number of special investigation teams that have failed.

If it were not for the din of Padmaavat, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) would have had another case on its hands. 

Then there is the court case itself. What should have been the highlight of the film ends up being its weakest link. At one point, the two legal counsel are arguing about whether the chief minister should have confessed to being incapable of running the state. Incredibly, when the eventual judgment is passed, all the corrupt ministers are pulled up by the court. Quite why, and based on what evidence other than hearsay, is left to the imagination.

Of the cast, Gulshan Devaiah manages to make an impact with his rough yet gentle-at-heart Punjabi lawyer. Deepak Dobriyal continues to show good form but is let down by the script. Raima Sen faces a similar conundrum. Anurag Arora, who plays the Haryanvi inspector, is another interesting actor who breathes some life into his role.

Remy Kohli's attempt shows potential but is let down by some poor writing and jarring editing. The constant movement of timeline takes away the dramatic impact of certain occasions. The director also muddles the plot in his attempt to be obscure. By the end, the idea itself is lost.