The Obiter Truth: Re-writing the myth of the Hollywood hotshot lawyer

The Obiter Truth is a catalogue of everyday experiences in the life of a young lawyer hoping to find humour in the bizarre and sense in the chaos. A hat tip to the comical struggles of young lawyers everywhere.
Manini Brar
Manini Brar

I suppose cinema is meant to be larger than life. There is no point in looking at the Alicia Florricks (The Good Wife) and Harvey Specters (Suits) of the world and feeling bad about yourself, because no one, and I mean no one, wears a crimson dress with matching lipstick to court. And no matter how gelled-up your hair is, by about seven-ish in the evening, it will look like you drove your convertible really fast through a desert.

The Indian court-goer in particular inhabits a different world altogether. A sort of circle outside the Venn diagram of lawyers world-wide. He has nothing in common with the sleek-suited, even-toned, fruit-of-Harvard-type dazzler that is the hallmark of Hollywood legal fantasies. Our stereotype is a man in a frayed grey pant-coat which was once black, dabbing rivulets of sweat from his forehead beside a tea-stall in the blazing sun. He often misplaces his files, fumbles in court, seeks time to come better prepared and forgets to pay his office rental.

That such a man should miraculously morph into the protagonist who brings down the establishment by sheer conscientious lawyering in a western underdog-trumps-topdog plot is unconvincing. He has no inclination to be the Gandhi of his times. He does feel awfully inspired when he sees Tom Cruise rebel against corruption in his law firm (The Firm) or Julia Roberts avenge bad corporates for environmental damage (Erin Brockovich). But it is 2 am in the morning when that movie gets over, and he is lying in bed in his shorts, eating chips with a laptop on his chest at the height of his passion. So he does the only thing he can do in the circumstances: turn a side and nod off.

Morning brings around the newspaper and a slow, introspecting, cup of tea. Sip by sip, pragmatism douses rebellious ideas. Ours is a country with many problems, he reasons. There is no one instance of firm corruption or one case of environmental damage or one injustice waiting to find a voice. There are millions. If I get into this chakkar (circle), I’ll be doing ‘this only’ for the rest of my life.

The more polished the lawyer, the more likely he is to baptise this dithering into an ethical debate. After all, lawyers are not activists. Our role in society is to assist the court and defend our client. Not right the wrongs - that is the job of the judge. It is hardly becoming of a polished professional to take up arms against every injustice in society. Have you ever seen a doctor cry over every death in a hospital?

As if to change the subject, life throws daily struggles at our man like Frizbees to a dog. Show me how you make it to court in this traffic! And how you get your client to pay up in this economy! And how you beat the competition, impress somebody, bag a new account! Show me! Show me! Show me! Gooooood dog. At which point, our man is sprawled face-down on the floor, tongue out in exhaustion. All inspiration leaves his body like a soul gone to heaven.

If, after so many worthy villains – the Gollum (LOTR) of indecision, the Agent Smith (Matrix) of propriety, the Sauron (LOTR) sucking life’s energies – some injustice still tugs at his heart-strings and he acts upon it, it is indeed a rare moment of courage. A possible turning point in the plot, as the flogged underdog slowly pulls himself together with heroic resolve to throw one last punch at his adversary.

Will he succeed? Well, that will depend on how much of a David he has left in him for the Goliath of systematized uncertainty. Once he enters a courtroom buoyed atop a stream of people, he will struggle to find his feet, then his breath, then his files, then the judge’s attention, by which time the next matter will likely be called out and everything will hang on his one, and possibly only, sentence. If it is pointed, impactful, dramatic enough for the judge to pay attention, then there is hope that a terrific, academy-award-worthy, ‘The End’ will follow many years into the future. If not, the stream will gush forward and he will paddle along in the space-time continuum of justice-delayed-or-denied till he manages to find his feet again.

That climax, where a motivated young-gun pushes open tall wooden court-doors with triumphant energy and walks straight down an empty aisle amidst an enraptured audience, all the while ‘Your Honour’-ing an expectant judge with a game-changing argument, has no place in this narrative. An Indian litigator watches that scene like Indian cops watch Dabbang. As pure fiction, with no semblance to anything dead or alive.

And so it is that the Indian version of a Hollywood lawyer-flick just rumbles on for the most part. From one villain to the next, one unfulfilled moment to another, while our man simply goes about his daily business, tries to stay afloat and not grab too many eyeballs. His hairline recedes, eyes fog and sensitivities wane over time. He may even acquire a villainous aspect, as a top-dog in a shiny black suit with much to say about professional propriety. For nothing remains of the young man who was deeply affected by a movie late one night, countless nights ago. [The End]

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