Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai is clearly not the first attempt at tackling religion and self-proclaimed spokespersons of the various gods in the Hindu religion through the lens of the Indian judicial system. The 2012 film OMG: Oh My God! dealt with this topic when an earthquake destroyed a shopkeeper’s shop and was deemed an “Act of God.” The 2014 film PK questioned the whole concept of godmen with the help of an alien who had just landed on Earth. Despite being a copaganda (films that glorify the police), Singham Returns portrayed a godman as the big bad of the film. Regardless of the shoddy quality of the show, the Prakash Jha-directed Aashram threw a sledgehammer at this ongoing tradition of intertwining politics with religion. That said, the Manoj Bajpayee-led film is certainly the first attempt at approaching this scary aspect of our society in a grounded fashion while wondering why people who believe in any god are so quick to trust godmen and defend them with their lives.
Director Apoorv Singh Karki and writer Deepak Kingrani’s courtroom drama takes place in Jodhpur, where a girl named Nu has been allegedly sexually assaulted by a “guru” referred to as the Baba. Due to the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offenses (POCSO) Act, he is promptly arrested and sent to jail. A state-wide agitation ensues, which is spearheaded by the Baba’s followers, who are commonly known as “bhakts,” and the Baba is assured that he’ll get his bail order in no time due to the pressure on the judicial system. When Nu’s parents find out that the lawyer who has been assigned to them isn’t on their side and is actually using them to earn a lot of money, Advocate P.C. Solanki is brought into the picture. After listening to Nu’s ordeal, as any sane person would, Solanki becomes emotionally invested in the case and decides not to take any fees from Nu’s parents, as he thinks her smile after sending the Baba to jail will be more than enough. Adv. Sharma and many others take Baba’s side and begin defending the criminal based on his godliness. Hence, the case turns into a fight for justice as well as a race to set a precedent against religious figures.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai is clearly about Asaram, who was punished with life imprisonment by the Jodhpur SC and ST Court and is still rotting in a jail in that city. Since it’s such a well-documented trial, Deepak Kingrani manages to get most of the stuff right, especially in terms of the attacks on key witnesses and the charges that were leveled against Asaram. But it’s obvious that due to the volatile times we’re living in, where filmmakers are being harassed by certain political parties at the drop of a hat, the film dilutes the ferocity with which various political and religious outfits backed Asaram when he was arrested. Kingrani chooses to keep things pretty generic so that the audience can understand why people like the Baba are protected while basic human rights go for a toss. Now, that has its pros and cons. All the characters feel a little undeveloped as they are turned into exposition machines, thereby disallowing the audience from connecting with them. However, this overall blandness does allow one massive question to shine: why is the majority Hindu community allowing godmen to thrive?
By portraying Solanki as a religious man who prays to Lord Shiva and fights to protect those who have been wronged by the Baba, Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai plants the “good Hindus versus bad Hindus” argument front and center. Both Karki and Kingrani are aware of the fact that India is a deeply religious country, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. So, instead of wondering about the country’s affinity towards religion, Karki and Kingrani question the need to appoint a corrupt spokesperson for the almighty. They show us that we can practice our religion on our own instead of letting someone else be our mascot, and getting offended when said mascot turns out to be a fraud. To be honest, being offended is the right reaction. However, directing that anger toward someone who has been wronged by a religious figure is illogical because of the apparent imbalance of power. The movie argues that when a flawed human being with limitless money and political prowess is questioned, people who abide by religious values should stand behind the victim because it takes a great deal of courage to raise one’s voice against such an influential individual. In addition to all that, Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai says that, as per myths and scriptures, gods do not exploit the weak and empower villains; then why should the law and society do the opposite?
Coming to the performances, it’s safe to say that the film entirely rests on Manoj Bajpayee’s shoulders. He utilizes his screen time to give Solanki a sense of depth, as we see him being so vulnerable in the face of immeasurable danger. He ensures that we fear for him whenever he steps out of his house or the courtroom, and he hopes that we come to the realization that things can go wrong if lawlessness isn’t obstructed at the right time. His chemistry with Vipin Sharma is great. Usually, in Indian courtroom dramas, the pitch of the two lawyers (the one fighting for the victim and the one fighting for the criminal) is very different so that the audience can side with one and hate the other. But Sharma and Bajpayee always maintain a level of professionalism. When they do get a little unprofessional, it’s usually done to underscore the intent of the respective characters. As for the rest of the cast, everyone is quite good, but none of them truly shine. Going by her vocal inflections and body language, Adrija Sinha is evidently a fantastic actor, and she should’ve been allowed to give Nu some three-dimensionality. Instead, the character and her performance are defined by the assault, while the fight against religious exploitation takes up most of the space. Well, as they say, “win some, lose some.”
In conclusion, Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai is worth a watch. If you don’t take the current religious and political climate and how it’s affecting the entertainment industry into consideration, it can seem like a basic film. But if you have been following the attacks that filmmakers have been enduring for speaking their truth, which has been virtual and literal in nature, the mere existence of this film feels like a huge achievement. I was of the opinion that films released on the big screen have a higher chance of reaching a wide audience, and going by Bandaa‘s look and feel, it should’ve been a theatrical release. Well, maybe I am wrong, and the producers know that a film like this is going to reach millions of people via the OTT platform, and they’re going to come to the realization that religion shouldn’t become a shield for criminals. And, despite being an atheist, I agree with that sentiment. Religion has always been used to reach the masses and imbue them with a strong moral core. If it’s being used by godmen to spread hatred and exploit people, then the general populace has to protest that and keep their religion out of the hands of fiends. Now, that’s just my reading of the film. Please watch Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai on Zee5, form your own opinion, and let us know what you think of it.