I’m never really sure of what to expect from an Indian Oscar nominee. At times we outdo ourselves with the likes of Lagaan, Salaam Mumbai, and Anjali….and then at times we really outdo ourselves with cult movies like Barfi, Eklavya and Jeans (I believe we even spelt the movie name wrong). So we do swing it from extremes.
Court, for those who are still not aware, is our current nominee for the Oscars and sadly enough it didn’t’ make the cut to the final 5. However that takes nothing away from the movie! Court is a courtroom drama (I guess that would be an easy one to figure), written and directed by debutant Chaitanya Tamhane. The movie has no known stars and literally not one person has probably been in front of the camera … EVER!
The film examines the Indian legal system and its snail paced- one-step-forward-two-steps-backwards downright irritating processes coupled with the lawyers who interpret the law in their own special way and in the end, show the world, why an average Indian citizen fears rather than embraces our judicial system
The film details the trial of Narayan Kamble (Vira Sathidar, a cowherd who later started performing in various forms of art and literature. Yup! He isn’t a screen actor!), a Dalit political activist and a “people’s poet” who is arrested on charges of “abetment of suicide.” The claim you ask? Well, the police state that Kamble has performed “incendiary” lyrics, telling Dalits to “drown themselves in sewage” which provoked a municipal sanitation worker to actually take his own life by drowning in a sewer. The ludicrousness of the charge is matched by the solemnity with which the police pursue it.
In a parallel theme, the movie focuses on the everyday lives of the two lawyers and the judge involved in the case. The modern, cosmopolitan life living defense lawyer Vinay Vohra (Vivek Gomber, who is also the producer of this movie), his opponent the middle class house wife who acts as the public prosecutor (Geetanjali Kulkarni) and the Judge (Pradeep Joshi, who I guess is also debuting in this movie).
The defense wants bail to be granted since the police and prosecution literally have no proof, the prosecution wants him in jail till eternity so she could have some peace of mind and the judge is literally clueless of how to proceed despite having “common sense”. The movie is aptly described as the “quiet violence” of the judicial system and why you learn to fear the law.
The strength of the movie lies in its simplicity in the story telling and the blunt look at the existing judicial system. A man wrongly accused rots in jail since the lawyers’ know how to play the system and then whatever happens in a court is all about the script. The movies spares us the grieving widow’s melodrama or some silly car chase action sequence or even the ever present item number. It gives you a somber look at a simple story and leaves you somehow wanting more.
This is the debut directorial venture for Tamhane and he took nearly 3 years to complete this project, researching, writing and executing the film. And it shows in each frame! Just to add to that, some cast members were untrained, non-professional actors. In the case of the woman who plays the deceased’s widow, it’s eerie how unaffected the scene is before you realize that it is reality. (The woman is widowed in real life. Her husband was a manhole worker.) Tamhane wanted us to experience a “real courtroom drama” and he does it with panache. Tamhane has done something truly unique and extraordinary here and I for one will be on the lookout for his next venture.l
Those used to seeing Suits, Boston Legal, Practice and the likes (and living in India!) for court room dramas need to watch this movie without fail. There is a reason we pay a bribe and stay away from the cops. This movies shows why.
The movie is subtle but frightening and is a deeply disturbing and brilliant masterpiece fascinatingly portraying a violent satire on Indian judiciary and our modern society! A must watch for a Sunday afternoon.