Sunday, February 12, 2012

Kanoon (1960)

Capital Punishment has a marked prominence in the annals of all recorded history. There has been no civilization where this form of punishment has not been practiced. Be it the Greeks, or the Romans, or the Chinese- all had strict stipulations on human execution as a part of their code of law. Even major religions like Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism have permitted capital punishment for certain offenses. But despite all this, there has always been a serious debate on whether human execution is justified. It has always been argued whether justice is always just; most certainly there have been many recorded instances where apparently innocent have been executed. BR Chopra’s 1960 movie Kanoon essentially debates and discusses this very pertinent issue of whether a human has got the right to take the life of another human, even if it is a means of enforcing punishment. Starring Ashok Kumar, Rajendra Kumar, and Nanda in principal roles along with some splendid lesser known actors essaying crucial roles, Kanoon is a resounding statement on the fallacies of human court of justice and on the inadequacies of the written law.

The movie starts off with a cold blooded murder like many of the other thrillers of the time. However this regularity is just a smokescreen for this apparently routine murder hides an uncomfortable truth behind it and exposes the ineffectual nature of our law. The case is adjudged by Justice Badri Prasad (Ashok Kumar) who is set thinking by the completely unexpected things that it throws up. This sets the ball rolling for a gripping tale that interweaves a poignant family drama into a courtroom battle. Another cold blooded murder takes place; that of a wealthy and manipulative city moneylender. The setting of the murder witnesses an unusual turn of events. Advocate Kailash Khanna (Rajendra Kumar) visits the moneylender to obtain some crucial papers that could put his girlfriend Meena’s (Nanda) family into great financial trouble. His girlfriend is the daughter of none other than Justice Badri Prasad, making the renowned judge his to be father-in-law. While at the moneylender’s place, Kailash spots Badri Prasad from a window, making his way towards the house. To avoid meeting his father-in-law and spilling the beans on his brother-in-law’s carelessness, he goes and hides in the other room. What happens next truly shakes the daylights out of him. Badri Prasad takes out a knife, rams it into the moneylender’s chest, and leaves the place smoothly. Completely shaken and not knowing what to do next, Kailash too runs away from the scene of the murder. Once the place is deserted save for the corpse of the moneylender lying on the floor, an aged thief enters the house with the intention of pilferage. However in the dark of the night he steps onto the corpse, leaves his fingerprints on the knife, and while escaping from the window gets caught by two policemen patrolling the area. Expectedly the poor thief gets embroiled in the case and gets implicated for the murder, with all the evidences pointing towards him. Not wanting to give his father-in-law away, Kailash decides to fight the case for the falsely accused thief and embarks on a battle to save him, while making all the efforts to spur the conscience of his father-in-law. What follows next is a riveting courtroom drama and a completely unexpected climax that throws up a host of questions, while answering a few too along the way.

Kanoon is completely a director’s film. It is an explosive subject and each and every scene shows the kind of efforts that would have gone in writing it. The dialogues are emphatic, the silences even more so. Most of the movies have one or two memorable scenes, but this one boasts of a series of such spectacular scenes that create a tremendous impact- right from the first scene, to the culmination of the drama. If one has to choose the most dramatic scenes, surprisingly a lot of them also come outside the court of law- behind the scenes of all the true drama. My vote would go to the interactions between the father and son in law post the murder, when Badri Prasad finds Kailash peeping into his private diary. Also the dialogue between the accused thief and his defendant Kailash is remarkably handled. There is also a superbly done slight side track when Meena starts suspecting Kailash of the murder, having absolutely just reasons for doing so. This delicate interplay of emotions between the protagonists is a delight to watch. The highpoint, though, as expected is the jaw-dropping climax, complete with the tense buildup and replete with an efficient disrobing of facts post the suspense is revealed.

The actors do more than a fine job, and show great dexterity despite the help they receive from the remarkable written material. I haven’t seen much of Rajendra Kumar, but still can safely assume that this would be one of his best performances (most of the others I believe are in the sappy romantic space where he excelled and thus got knighted as the Jubilee Kumar). Ashok Kumar is truly amazing in his highly sinuous role. His effortless ease is hard to miss. Meena is slightly more than a typical Hindi movie heroine and gets good scope to leave a mark. There are no songs in the narrative, though it does boast of a finely choreographed ballet dance performance that blends seamlessly with the story.

Parting Note: Kanoon is simply a MUST WATCH for the people who love their court-room dramas, and also for those who like watching thrillers (though this is not a thriller in the conventional sense). What elevates it from being just an excellent film is its thought, and its purpose which it conveys in the most effective manner possible- through the route of a highly entertaining story. 


  1. Yes, a very good courtroom drama indeed (and I'm SO glad they didn't have any songs in this film - it would have completely spoilt the tension). If you like courtroom dramas, I'd also suggest the Sunil Dutt-Leela Naidu-Rehman starrer, Yeh Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke, based on the Nanavati case, the last case to be tried by a jury in India.

  2. Thanks for the recommendation. Had never heard of this movie. Will definitely keep a look out for it. Sounds really interesting.

  3. I loved, loved, loved this film! BR Chopra excelled in these taut human dramas. Ittefaq is another great (songless)thriller. And yes, Madhu's recommendation - of course, my sympathies were fully with the murderer in that. Achanak starring Vinod Khanna was a more-recent reprisal of the same case. Good film too.

    1. Indeed BR Chopra excelled in such movies. Even Dhund was really awesome- though it was adapted from a popular Agatha Christie play. But Kanoon for me is far ahead of his other projects.

      I too loved both Ittefaq and Achanak. Have written about both on this blog-