Saturday, 18 April 2015

Film Review - Court

The Jury Is In

Film: Court (Marathi with English subtitles)
Cast: Vira Sathidar, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Vivek Gomber, Pradeep Joshi
Directed by: Chaitanya Tamhane
Duration: 1 hr 55 mins
Rating: * * * * *

Let me put this in plain English: Court is one of the finest films made in recent times, in any part of the world. When it comes to quality, mind and soul stirring cinema, it doesn’t get any better than this film, which also happens to be the debut feature of director Chaitanya Tamhane.  

And what a debut it is.

The subject of Court is something that is usually accompanied by a lot of drama and desk thumping. That legal matters move at a snail's pace, when they move at all, is well known but what happens to those who are at the receiving end of it? And what about those who are involved in the process of delivering justice?

Court deals with an enraging matter with a Zen-like calmness. Imagine an action film without stunts or a war film without gun-fire; this film tackles a strong subject but offers an alternative view.

An elderly dalit folk singer Narayan Kamble (Vira Sathidar) is charged by the police with abetting the suicide of a sewage worker. The accusation is that the dead man heard one of Kamble's songs and the lyrics drove him to commit suicide; he enters a manhole without proper safety equipment and the toxic gases kill him. The charge sounds ludicrous but the law has to take its own course, the singer is arrested and promptly remanded in custody.

A well- to-do activist lawyer (Vivek Gomber, who has also produced the film) represents Kamble in court while the public prosecutor (Geetanjali Kulkarni) fights tooth and nail to ensure he stays in jail. At one point she even cites archaic laws to claim that the elderly singer is a threat to the sovereignty of India. The defense lawyer knows very well that these laws are antiquated and irrelevant, but apart from being patient and carrying on the fight, there is precious little he can do.  

We also get a glimpse of the personal lives of those involved. The prosecutor leads a normal life - cooks food for her family, picks up her son from day care and does all the other domestic chores. There is also an exceptional scene in a train where she discusses olive oil with her friend. In another instance, with complete insouciance she says that the old man should be dumped in the prison for 20 years because she is fed up with seeing the same faces. 

The activist lawyer comes from a rich Gujarathi family, and when he is not fighting for the marginalized, he is seen buying wine and cheese in a supermarker. During a dinner table conversation, his father also accuses him of getting everything easily on a platter in life.  

And then there is the judge (Pradeep Joshi), who goes by the book. At one point he even tells a lady that her case will not be heard because she is wearing a sleeveless top and that is not permissible as per the rules. The law may be a ass but it is still the law.

Had it not been so real, Kafka would have been proud of this farce.

At the end of the day though, they are all doing their jobs to the best of their ability. But morality and the rule book don’t go hand and hand and Court makes this subtle point with great impact.

When it comes to court cases, in India, unfortunately, as many have discovered, the trial is itself the punishment, sometimes even worse. 

This is not a one track narrative, there is no good and bad here and hence there is no preaching.

All the while, the camera is an observer not a participant. In fact, in an Ozu like manner, Mrunal Desai’s frames remain fixed, the camera never moves, barring a couple of times when it pans.

There is no background music in the film, keeping it simple, and Lokshair Sambhaji Bhagat’s powada (poetry) is used to good effect.

The actors, many of them non-professional are in fine fettle. Vira Sathidar looks and plays his character to a T, Geetanjali Kulkarni as the prosecutor and Pradeep Joshi as the judge look more like real life people than actors playing a part.

Do as you please but do not miss this film.

Published  in The Navhind Times, Goa on 19th April 2015

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant analysis... absolutely loved it!

    Court is a multifaceted work of cinema that’s extremely relevant to the times we live in. It is a commendable attempt on the part of a young and upcoming filmmaker like Chaitnaya Tamhane to come up with such a complex meshwork of cinematic art at the very onset his career. Chaitnaya impeccably blends cerebral and emotional elements to conjure up a powerful social commentary oozing with tragicomic motifs. The still camerawork (with camera often held at a distance), minimalist mise en scène, and the movie‘s deliberate pacing accentuates the slowness of the judicial process in India. Court has something to offer to everyone. The students of cinema most definitely need to study it. It is a film that needs to be watched!

    My review of the film can be read at: