A Holy Conspiracy movie review: Soumitra Chatterjee and Naseeruddin Shah make this legal drama engaging


A courtroom drama in a small town called Hillolganj pits two fearsome old rivals against each other. Former Rajya Sabha member and highly respected legal luminary Reverend Basanta Kumar Chatterjee (Soumitra Chatterjee in her last completed role) comes face to face with the irritable Anton D’Souza (Naseeruddin Shah), in a case that is intensely local but has repercussions on the outside world.

The man on trial is school teacher Kunal Joseph Baske (Sraman Chattopadhyaya) who refuses to teach a chapter of the Bible before Darwin’s theory, and who draws a line under the fact of having to extol the virtues of “science Vedic”. Who is at fault here? A teacher who does not want to bend to the arbitrary rules of his institution, or an administration that bends more and more to the political and social temperament of those in power?

The two lawyers respect each other, but leave no doubt that they are engaged in a battle. Chatterjee speaks for a minority institution that is divided on how to define apostasy versus the right to think. A thinking man is judged here, D’Souza thunders: how can a real teacher tell his students things that have no scientific basis? A Delhi-based journalist (Kaushik Sen) reports on the proceedings for his outlet, shaking things up.

‘A Holy Conspiracy’, based on a play that was itself based on an incident of a similar nature in the United States in the 1920s, proves in places to be tasteless, its stilted retorts. The cinema is basic and rudimentary. It’s also a talkie, which is usually what legal dramas tend to be, and the performance of most of the supporting actors shows their inexperience.

But what keeps us engaged are the two pillars. Submitted ChatterjeeThe disease is taken into account by the script: his character is constantly asked to rest a little and take his medication. There is power and grace with which Chatterjee delivers his lines. It is clear that he is a believer and that his faith overcomes all doubt. Shah is also believable, and again, real life comes close to his performance. In the passionate manner in which he defends his client, referring to his multiple identities – tribal, Christian, Indian – one can almost feel Shah stripping himself of his character and being himself, as we have seen and heard, in so many forums. He beats the gong for a composite India where everyone has their place, for the secular foundations of the constitution, and an educational system spared from sectarianism and obscurantism.

Will this India survive?

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