An engaging courtroom drama about an individual’s ‘right to think’

A Holy Conspiracy Story: A Science teacher is suspended from his Christian missionary school, and imprisoned on false charges, when he refuses to teach the Biblical story of Creation before Darwinian Evolution. A reclusive lawyer (Anton De Souza) agrees to fight his case, and faces an old ally (Reverend Basanta Kumar Chatterjee) in court. But a bigger and more sinister conspiracy is at play, as a politician fuels the fire and uses the issue for his gain.

A Holy Conspiracy Review: The courtroom drama is a comment on the nation’s socio-economic and political scenario, while attempting to be the voice of reason against fanaticism. It also calls out the disregard for an individual’s right to think independently. A teacher of Hillolganj Christian High School, Kunal Joseph Baske (Sraman Chaterjee), makes a rational decision to avoid teaching Science from a Vedic textbook as his knowledge of the same is limited. He also skips the Biblical story of Creation as his students are already well-versed with it, and chooses to teach Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution instead. But the school suspends him for going against their rule of first teaching about the Genesis. Kunal is put behind bars for two months on false charges, as a local politician gives this episode a communal colour.

Kunal insists it was an honest mistake, he wasn’t demeaning the Bible, and pleads not-guilty. As his trial begins, the church’s pastor brings a formidable lawyer, Reverend Basanta Kumar Chatterjee (Soumitra Chattopadhyay), to represent the school. The defence counsel is his old-time colleague, Anton De Souza (Naseeruddin Shah) — a lawyer disillusioned with the growing religious polarisation in the country. The courtroom drama between the two stalwarts representing religion and science, fanaticism and rationale respectively, forms the rest of the story.

A Holy Conspiracy hits home with its theme that every citizen has the constitutional right to differ in religious beliefs as much as one has to practise and protect their faith. It has three stakeholders — religious zealots, the rationals and the misguided. Kunal is in a quandary for preferring science to a holy text. The church sees him as an atheist and apostate, and he’s a Maoist for the authorities. The film intelligently uses basic logic to drive home the point instead of pegging it on emotions. It also talks about the politics of religion that can make an innocent man spend months in jail without a hearing. A fierce reporter, Hari (Kaushik Sen), compares Kunal to Rohith Venmula, as he also talks about his tribe, Santhal.

As Naseer poignantly states, ‘The right to think is on trial.’ The battle of wits touches upon the dichotomy in views on the law of nature, logic and even reproduction, when seen through the lens of religion. It highlights India’s history being obliterated, and school textbooks being altered to suit a certain faction’s narrative. This is not just a tale of religion versus science or modern education versus pseudoscience, but also voices being suppressed — whether an individual’s or an entire community’s.

Naseer is, as usual, brilliant as the world-weary lawyer who’s fierce yet kind and unbiased. Even if he disagrees with Reverend Basanta, he acknowledges him as a great man and a lawyer. Bengali cinema icon, Soumitra Chattopadhyay, delivers an incredibly powerful performance in his pan-India swansong. He’s an authority on the Bible, who is also righteous and has his heart in the right place. You will feel for the late thespian when he realises the gravity of the situation, but struggles to let go of his strong beliefs. Each actor presents his side with such great conviction during the courtroom debate that not only will you sit in rapt attention but also have a tough time choosing sides. Award winning actor, Kaushik Sen, as the abrasive journalist is outstanding, and shows his prowess towards the end when he confronts Naseer about his ideologies. Amrita Chattopadhyay as Kunal’s fiance torn between her beliefs and the truth gives a remarkable performance, too.

Director and script-screenplay writer, Saibal Mitra, handles the film with excellent command, and the cinematography is par excellence. Even though the first half is slightly slow, it doesn’t droop in its narrative. The second half heightens the drama while exposing the power of political clout. The thought-provoking fare that advocates for every citizen’s right to think and believe independently, irrespective of their religion, makes for a supremely engaging watch.

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