[COLUMN] Films And Law Alike

While waiting in the courtroom one day for my matter to reach and looking at some random Bollywood news article on my phone, a realization dawned upon me that my legal profession and film industry are two fields that are much of a muchness actually. The fields of films and law are strangely similar, at least in terms of their current state in our country. From the stakeholders to the practices, there are a lot of amusing points of convergence in these two very distinct areas. I couldn’t help but unsee glaring similarities in not just the positives, but also the negatives that these two areas of practice exhibit. 

On one hand, the entertainment industry is a matter of everybody’s interest, and due to the spotlight that it enjoys, most of the people have some idea or opinion about the show business. But on the other hand, despite the omnipresence of legal professionals around us and the uncountable ways in which the legal system touches our daily lives, a common person is mostly oblivious to the everyday functioning in the legal profession. And therefore, this article would be a sneak-peek into our profession for the ones not versed with the legal practice and an amusingly relatable read for the legal professionals. 

To begin with, both litigation and movies are basically story-telling mediums. Every story-telling medium has to have some stakeholders and primary functionaries. For a layman, the film business immediately evokes the picture of an actor, and the legal field evokes it of an advocate in black and white robes. But if viewed closely, these two figures are actually the same in their respective domains. An actor in essence is a performer, who performs a particular script and character for an audience that watches that performance. Here in our legal field, it is the Advocate who is the performer. Every appearance of an advocate in the courtroom is a separate performance in itself, involving the script, the delivery, the nuances and the pressure. The judges in our courts take the place of the audience. The purpose of the arguing advocate is now to give a performance so convincing in the court that his audience, which is the judge in this case, likes him, believes him and gives him what he seeks. This is exactly what an actor is also attempting to do on screen, right? Trying to be as real as possible on the screen, so that the audience believes his story. 

But what are these performer’s representing? In movies, it is the characters and their story. In courts, it is the litigants and their stories. For the judge in the court, the advocate is himself the party concerned and whatever the advocate says is purely on behalf of the litigant he is representing. This is just like an audience watching a movie, where the actor is presumed to be the character and it is through the performance of that actor that the viewer understands the journey of the character. So, the more convincing the advocate, the better are the chances of the story resonating with the judge. 

But obviously, not all performers are the same by virtue of their work. Just like actors in Bollywood, the counsels also follow a hierarchy. The movie industry is incomplete without its “stars”. The showbiz thrives on its leading superstar actors, who carry a unique charisma and presence that commands attention of the audience. Even if their movies are not the most logical, they manage to click just right with the audience. Whether its skill or aura is anybody’s guess, but what is undeniable is that they achieve results. In our legal profession, these stars are the senior counsels. These are the privileged advocates, who have been given a certain designation by the bar and the bench due to their ability or experience. These senior advocates are engaged for important and high value matters. The objective behind engaging them is exactly the same as behind casting a superstar in movies, which is their connect with the audience and the quality of hearing received from the judge. A senior counsel might simply be arguing an absolutely dead matter, yet they can manage to get the judges at least hear them and not outrightly dismiss the case. This is because of the face value that the senior counsel carries. Sometimes, senior counsels are engaged for a certain important hearing in the matter rather than the entire case, just like those cameos by superstars in movies to bring the audiences to watch that entire movie. But stars and senior counsels are not the essentials of the working system. It would be as wrong to assume that a senior is a must for an efficient case, as assuming that no good movies can ever be made without a leading superstar. 

However, apart from the basic relationship between a performer and his audience that lays the foundation of the entire exercise, both in courts and on screens, there are other players as well in the scene to tell the tale. The audience’s main focus may mostly be on the lead actor, the movie isn’t complete without the supporting cast & crew, which includes a bunch of fine actors and technicians who would support the protagonist in the larger objective of story-telling. More often than not, our movies cast impeccable actors in supporting roles. These actors, despite doing the heavier lifting in their respective scenes due to their sheer talent, are often not the crowd pullers. In our legal practice, this supporting cast includes the briefing counsel and the team of young advocates assisting the arguing counsel. They surely know the case better than the person arguing. They constantly assist and guide the arguing counsel. Yet they are not the ones who are mostly arguing, for if they do, they might not be able to secure the same response and relief from the judge. But the lesser-known faces are also parallelly doing incredible independent work in movies & courts. It is due to these numerous capable people that the industry is surviving and plethora of stories of clients are reaching the audience. After all, it is these supporting stars that go on to become superstars in future. 

Next are the directors and producers of the movie. They are the ones who actually pull all the strings, weave the story together, gather the right resources and present the movie before the audience. I feel this role is essayed by the law firms in our legal domain. They collate the resources and the team to take the perfect story to the audience, and they are the ones who eventually manage the finances of the entire case. Like powerful production houses, the renowned law firms obviously manage big budget matters and employ exorbitant money in the entire process. But just like the accommodative nature of the showbiz, our profession allows the space for both small and big budgeted firms to co-exist. The result is finally anyone’s guess. A small-budget blockbuster or a big-budget disaster are both reasonable possibilities. 

This was about the stakeholders in the business. But wait, movies and law hold way more resemblance. Like the genres of films, even the umbrella term ‘law’ encompasses varied domains of law. From corporate to family to criminal to taxation laws, there is a buffet to choose from. Not every advocate is an expert in every field, just like every actor or director cannot make a movie of every genre. Everybody will have a certain comfortable space. One will observe that the superstars of the business can do almost everything decently, but it is the younger lot that automatically gets typecast in a certain mold depending on the opportunity that comes their way. It’s like the role itself choosing the actor, rather than the converse. 

Furthermore, district court cases can easily be equated with a mass entertainer movie. There can be emotion, melodrama and sometimes even action. It caters to less complicated but relatable grievances. This is why, district courts are always bustling with advocates and litigants. On the other hand, the supreme court litigation is like an intellectually made art film, which is beautiful in its own peculiar way but is not everybody’s cup of tea. Few can truly appreciate the depth of the subject & contentions being raised before the apex court. 

Then there is also the tribunal practice, which is like the OTT space. OTT has revolutionized the entertainment business by creating a new platform that offers greater opportunities for larger number of actors. The tribunal practice has done the same for the legal field. A separate batch of advocates are engaged in purely tribunal practices, based on their specialized area or interest and experience, ranging from company law to income tax to environmental law. But like cinema and OTT are interdependent, so are tribunals and courts. The cases from tribunals often reach the higher courts, and the higher judiciary also remands back cases to be tried by the Tribunal. But largely, there is easy mobility of performers from one space to another. 

In the training and education phase, our NLUs and CLC are the equivalents of the NSD and FTII. These prestigious institutes have produced generations of savants in the respective fields and it is this legacy that bestows on them their historical stature. Graduates from these places often reap the fruits of the reputation of their alma mater in the early stages of the careers, but evidently, these institutes are not the guaranteed routes to success.

But the sad part is that the legal profession mirrors the film industry even in the problems and lacunae. First is the growing problem of oversupply. Earlier, both films and law were not popular pursuits amongst the masses and therefore, only a few people joined them. There wasn’t much competition then. But today, almost every second person is either getting into a law college, or running towards the glee of the showbiz. Unfortunately, in the present times, there exist more stories of failure in these professions than of success, but very few get talked about. 

Second is the issue of the huge gap in the incomes of those at the top and the bottom. The grievances of underpaid young advocates have been brought forth by the CJI recently, while the film industry is full of stories of struggling actors who find it hard to fulfill even their basic needs. On the other hand, the superstars of the movies and the popular senior counsels charge unimaginable fees for their briefs and take-home insane amount of money for even very short appearances. 

Third is the issue of nepotism, which is an all-time favorite topic of discussion in the film industry, but is hardly talked about in reference to the legal field. A former HRD minister had remarked a few years back that only 250-300 families have sent judges to the Supreme Court in all these years. Those in the legal profession would vouch for this rampant nepotism and bias in the designation of senior advocates, appointment of judges and even finding internships. Certain families have had advocates and judges for generations and very obviously, they do benefit from their decades of connections. While it is true that the legal field has its own Ranbir Kapoors and Alia Bhatts, who despite belonging to film families are fabulous actors, it is undeniable that there is a stark difference in the opportunities available for insiders and outsiders of the legal profession and this is unfortunately a topic not debated enough.

Lastly, I feel that these two fields are actually the best mirrors to the realities of the society we live in. Movies and courts often make bold statements about sparsely talked issues of the society, even if those issues are harsh and dark. Creativity and sharp analysis are attributes of both these spheres, though in different proportions. But while I enjoy the idea of being able to work in a profession that is peculiarly similar to my area of interest, I wish that people show reasonable interest in the working of the legal profession, even if much less than showbiz, so as to at least initiate a discussion on the loopholes that exist in this somewhat flawed system.

Written By:- Advocate Divyam Aggarwal, Practicing in Delhi. He can be contacted at divyam.ag@gmail.com

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