Court

Court_(film)_POSTER
Court
Release date: April 17, 2015
Directed by: Chaitanya Tamhane
Cast: Vira Sathidar, Vivek Gomber, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Pradeep Joshi, Usha Bane

Much has been written and spoken about Chaitanya Tamhane’s National Award winning debut feature film, Court, and therefore I wouldn’t waste time running through its credentials. Court is a multilingual film, which depicts a perspective on the Indian Judiciary.

The entire judiciary isn’t being commented upon here, by taking isolated headlines and newspapers cuttings and flashing them between court hearings and there are no scintillating defense/prosecution arguments to ruffle your feathers. It’s rather a take on the decrepit rotting of the archaic laws and their implications on the ordinary justice-seeker, and the justice providers.

Narayan Kamble (Vira Sathidar) is an aging folk-artiste who performs sociopolitically relevant songs, which could be conveniently classified as communist propaganda by an authoritarian government. He’s booked for motivating the suicide of a person who was present at one of his public performances in a slum of Mumbai. He doesn’t know who the person was, nor did he advocate death personally to him. It was a song that he sung, that propelled him to end his life.

As preposterous as the case may sound, it’s realistic. Every day, all over India, cases are filed under the vast bracket of ‘obscenity’ and various other subjective offenses. This is just a reflection of that. The film doesn’t make Narayan the protagonist of the film, rather he’s a symbolic scapegoat of the judiciary. The film goes on to focus on the lawyers and the judges who’re involved in Narayan’s case.

Vinay Vora (Vivek Gomber) is Narayan’s affluent, South Bombay raised attorney, who often ends up paying for his clients. He buys cheese and wine to consume them all by himself while he watches yet-another TV news debate. He’s the personification of a young, liberal and rational lawyer, often resorting to rhetoric questions to portray the frivolous nature of the charges leveled against his client.

Geetanjali Kulkarni plays the public prosecutor in this case. She reads out her arguments, verbatim, from the notes that she makes after feeding her family a dinner. She does the job that’s asked of her, and she shuttles between her different duties efficiently. Unlike Vinay, she isn’t privileged. She shows a different strata and layer within Mumbai’s social and economic hierarchy.

The judge (Pradeep Joshi) is praised by his subordinates for his ‘speed’ of hearing upto five or five and a half cases every day. He reaches this godly figure by disposing a hearing by dismissing a woman for wearing an outfit that violates the more-than-a-century old code of conduct. He’s observant and sharp. Yet, he’s naive and a personal believer in superstitions.

All of these characters form the crux of the film’s judiciary and are a representation of the classes they belong to. The film is multilingual, because the proceedings in the courtrooms of Mumbai are multilingual. Much like the streets of the city. The film also incorporates minor subthemes, such as the ever-befuddling Marathi pride and their silly hatred of the North Indians, then there’s the public lynching of a person for saying something that ‘offends’ a community’s sentiments, the stock-witness syndrome, and the strangely cordial and professional nature of the sparring lawyers in cases; strange because Hindi films can never not ostracize them to the extremes.

There are long sequences that stare hard and soft at the actor’s faces, giving away the quaint ordinary emotions of an everybody. It delivers shattering moments without a loud thud in the background score, particularly Usha Bane’s cross-examination as the “suicide victim’s” wife is perhaps the most powerfully understated one. Court silently underlines the statements that it wants to make and forces you to read between the breezily-written-lines.

It isn’t just a genre-film that thrives on scripted back-and-forth courtroom arguments, it’s a film about perspectives and takes an impartial stand towards any of the said perspectives. It does it so well, even documentaries can’t do it as much justice. No pun intended.

My rating: **** (4 out of 5)

 

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