Why Akshaye Khanna and Richa Chadha think 'Section 375' will make a difference

The actors play opposing lawyers in the courtroom drama, but are united in the opinion that the film is a balanced take on the sensitive issue of rape

Akshaye Khanna‎ and ‎Richa Chadda in 'Section 375'. Panorama Studios
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Section 375 is a courtroom drama that promises a "balanced narrative" on the sensitive issue of rape, which explains the title, taken from the corresponding clause in the Indian Penal Code.

The premise of the movie involves a film director being accused of rape by a female crew member, with the subsequent high-profile case playing out in the courts in full glare of the media. The case then becomes a debate about the necessary protection of women against sexual violence, versus the misuse of laws by women seeking vengeance against their former lovers.

Meera Chopra in 'Section 375'. Panorama Studios

Lead actors Akshaye Khanna and Richa Chadha are on opposing sides of the case, as criminal and prosecution lawyers respectively, but both told The National that Ajay Bahl's direction was very neutral and "lets the audience take sides".

Section 375 premiered at the Singapore Film Festival earlier this month with Khanna in attendance. The actor claims the film received a very positive response at the event which "has kind of validated" his belief in the film.

"I was watching from the back. [No one] picked up their phones once while watching the movie. Usually I have seen people do that, but here everyone was so engrossed, it was gratifying to watch," he says.

"We have seen many courtroom dramas, but somehow this looked very personal. At least to me, and that was also a feeling I got from people in Singapore.

"The writing of the film impressed me. It is always difficult to balance the narrative in such heinous types of crimes. So the director [Bahl] has handled it very delicately and left the public to form an opinion; [he's] let them decide where their moral compass about right and wrong is.

"It is also, very marginally, dealing with the pressures and processes of those involved with the legal system in such cases and what they have to go through. It is something that people may not know," Khanna adds.

Chadha also agrees that the film is a timely nod to the #MeToo movement, where women around the world came forward to report abuse. However, he claims during that period there were also unfortunate instances where a few women took the opportunity to defame men with false accusations.

"I have never shied away from saying it as it is," Chadha says. "I will not deny that there are such negative people, and [this]is why the film addresses both aspects. We are not judging anyone."

Rahul Bhat also stars in 'Section 375'. Panorama Studios

A Human Rights Watch report in 2016 said the number of rapes reported in India increased by 40 per cent in the three years after the rape and fatal assault of 23-year-old Jyoti Singh, who was set upon in a bus in Delhi in 2012.

Keeping that and the #MeToo movement in mind, does the film have potential to make a difference?

"I think Section 375 will add to the conversation," Khanna says. "People will have a better understanding of the law and what the Indian Penal Code constitutes [as] a rape."

Chadha is confident her role as a prosecution lawyer will be as significant as her character of Bholi Punjaban in the two-part Fukrey films.

"My character ... is very focused and idealistic. It is a meaty role and will be a very memorable one, I am sure," she says.

But on a more personal level, Chadha says working with an actor such as Khanna has helped her professional development.

"He is very quiet. He is very reserved but very focused and is an incredible actor. He prefers quality over quantity, but I learnt a lot with him. He is very generous.

"I was struggling with a very crucial scene in the climax, and had two or three takes. [Khanna] was watching quietly and then during a break, he came over to say, 'can you do this? Let the line make it more meaningful to you'."

But Khanna also follows his own advice, interrupting when I suggest that his recent choice of films has been for more offbeat roles rather than playing the romantic lead or action hero.

"I think the acceptance of films that have subjects which are written intelligently [such as Section 375] or deal with subjects which are not just love or marriage ... are finding much more acceptance today," he muses.

"And therefore the lines of what was offbeat or marginal have been getting blurred. And that is because the audience is changing, with so much exposure to different types of content."

Section 375 is released in cinemas across the UAE today.