Kanoon (1960) PosterThe recent death sentences carried out by the Indian Government have led to hue and cry among a section of society. The incidents have brought about debate on the topic ‘should death entence be abolished or is death sentence essential for functioning of civic society, can this barbaric act save a civic society and safeguard a Democracy and Nation?’ B.R.Chopra’s taut thriller Kanoon (The Law) tries to answers some of these questions. Urban legend has it that B.R.Chopra made Kanoon as a challenge to show the world that Indians could make a song less movie.

The movie begins with a case, where Kalidas (brilliantly played by Jeevan in a cameo) is accused of murdering Ganpat. The case is presided over by Session Court Judge Badri Prasad (Ashok Kumar) and Kalidas reveals to the court that he has already spent ten years of his life in jail for the murder of Ganpat. Kalidas asks how can the judicial system punish a man for the same crime twice, and in an impassioned monologue asks who is responsible for the judiciary’s ineffectiveness in upholding the right of innocent man. This first scene itself establishes the tone for the rest of the movie, can justice be delivered in all its fairness, why does the society condemn the criminal and his family when they should be disparaging the crime and not the human being.

Ashok Kumar in KanoonKailash (Rajendra Kumar) is a public prosecutor who has been raised by Badri Prasad. Meena(Nanda) is daughter of Badri who is in relationship with Kailash. Meanwhile Meena’s elder brother Vijay who is a wastrel and has been borrowing money from moneylender Dhaniram ( Om Prakash).Dhaniram warns Vijay of dire consequence if he does not pay up, as Vijay had signed on blank paper while borrowing money. Vijay seeks the help of his sister Meena, who in turn approaches Kailash to resolve the concern.

Rajendra Kumar in KanoonIn a turn of events Kailash is witness to Dhaniram’s murder which is committed by Badri Prasad. The police meanwhile arrests small time thief Kalia. The circumstantial evidence point out the he is the killer. Kalia pleads his innocence and reveals to the court that he cannot avail the services of a lawyer due to his financial conditions. Kailash is torn apart between his sense of duty towards justice and his gratitude towards Badri Prasad.

Kailash resigns from his post of public prosecutor and becomes lawyer for the defendant Kalia. Kailash is under immense pressure as Meena suspects him of killing Dhani Ram. Meanwhile, Kailash is angry and disappointed that judge Badri Prasad does not own up to the crime, thus mocking the principle of Satyameva Jayete (Truth Shall Prevail) .

Nanda in Hindi Film KanoonOn the acting front, Ashok kumar does a wonderful job of portraying a character which has grey shades. Nanda who plays the love interest of Rajendra Kumar over-acts, and does not deliver. Meanwhile this is one of the earlier films of Mehmood, to put it mildly he is irritating and the scenes involving his character in court room does not gel with the thriller. Rajendra Kumar is not a great actor, he fails to stand up to Ashok Kumar, but to give due credit he delivers when required. The cameo by Jeevan is one of the best cameos I have seen in Indian Cinema. Special mention about Nana Palsikar, I have to admit this is the first film I have watched which featured him and in the second half of the film, he steals the thunder right from the legend Ashok Kumar. The way he brings dignity to his role, which otherwise could have been just one dimensional is phenomenal.

The background score by the multi-talented Salil Choudhury is very ahead of its time and it does add four feathers to the movie. The direction by B.R. Chopra is of avant- garde variety; sadly he has not got his due, which he truly deserves. Full marks to B.R.Chopra for making a song less film, with duration of 150 minutes way back in 1960. Film makers of Bollywood should watch this film even today to see how to make a courtroom drama thriller with a social message, which in this film is abolition of death sentence.
The BalletEven though the climax may seem contrived and hurried, B.R. Chopra is a man who knows his craft very well. Do watch out for the ballet scene in the movie, the other scene is the now famous 5 minute silence scene, with pendulum ticking, which culminates in Kailash accusing Badri Prasad of murder.

I always have believed cinema is a visual medium and the genius of the director is to convey his message to the audience in the form of visuals rather than dialogues. An example of this can be found in Kanoon when Kailash goes out to dinner with Meena ,but Kailash is lost in thought about the case and his inability to speak the truth that Badri Prasad is the real murderer. While Meena suspects Kailash is the one who has murdered Dhaniram, without realizing this Kailash starts to play with the knife placed in table. The camera follows Meena’s expression which shows she is tensed due to his playing with knife, and the thought enters her mind if her relation with Kailash will ever be the same again. The scene ends with Meena snatching the knife from Kailash.

Kanoon is one of those few films which still stand the test of time. It is gripping and at the same time it conveys an important message about how capital punishments should be banned, because what we as society forget is there is big difference between justice and retribution.