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My Lords, this is a brilliant, authentic critique of Indian judiciary


  • Updated: Apr 16, 2015 15:46 IST

Veera Sathidar plays a folk artist in Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court.

Director: Chaitanya Tamhane
Cast: Veera Sathidar, Gitanjali Kulkarni, Vivek Gomber
Rating: 4/5

For all the melodrama mainstream cinema whips up in its courtrooms scenes, the fact is that it is a poor, if not terrible, interpretation of what happens actually. Remember Sunny Deol‘s ‘Tareekh pe tareekh pe tareekh’ monologue in Damini?

There has been a change, however, in the last two years. We have now moved on to more realistic sequences, with films like Subhash Kapoor’s Jolly LLB (Arshad Warsi, Boman Irani) and Hansal Mehta’s Shahid (Rajkummar Rao).

Debutant director Chaitanya Tamhane’s National Award-winning film Court takes the drama to a completely new level of realism and authenticity. Inspired by the case against activist ballad singer Jeetan Marandi (Jharkhand), for his alleged links with Left wing extremists, Court is about an abetment to suicide case against Lok Shahir Narayan Kamble (Veera Sathidar), a ballad singer, in a lower court in Mumbai.

Tamhane’s forte in filmmaking lies in the leisure with which he uses his camera: Most of his sequences wait patiently for the subject to enter and exit the frames even as some unrelated background elements lend to building up the milleu of the narrative. Often, the camera lingers around to give you a taste of the atmosphere from where the active character’s coming. Literature lovers are sure to love this aspect of the film as it lets you understand the psyche of each character, where they come from, and how their surroundings affect their attitude and decisions in life.
Gitanjali Kulkarni and Vivek Gomber in the film.

Court, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival last September, has won 18 international awards, including the Lion of the Future Award for the best first feature at the Italian fest.

The film also takes a critical look at class, education and access to power in our society with a brilliant balance between extremely rational and humane aspects. Court focuses on the proceedings involved in Kamble’s trial and the personal lives of the people involved – Kamble, his lawyer Vinay Vohra (Vivek Gomber), the prosecution lawyer Nutan (Gitanjali Kulkarni) and Judge Sadavarte (Pradeep Joshi). As he peeps into the lives of his characters, Chaitanya Tamhane hints at a strong criticism of our judicial and education system, and the way we perceive and practice the law book. The way Nutan reads out sections of Indian Penal Code is a clear attack on the rote learning in our education system. A sneak into her life shows she is far closer to Kamble and the likes than the defense lawyer but has little empathy. The defense lawyer, on the other hand, hails from an elite family, but wants to do his bit to shatter the divide between classes and other divisions of society.
Geetanjali Kulkarni plays the prosecution lawyer in the film.

The troupe of popular Lok Shahir Shambhaji Bhagat has written and sung ballads for the film that form the backbone of the narrative.

The best thing about Court is that all the characters have given believable performances, which lends to the authenticity and realism of the narrative. There are no gimmicky or heroic dialogues that Kamble or his lawyer mouth in order to strenghten their points.

Add to all this the Court’s ending: It is surprising, if not shocking! Just when you think Tamhane has got a theatrical, symbolic ending to the film, he adds another sequence, a sneak peek into the judge’s life: He goes on a family trip during the summer vacation of the court. He is sleeping on a garden bench when a group of children disturb his sleep, scaring him with their screams. On waking up, he finds the kids running away and slaps a kid who cannot speak as he is the only one left in front. The climax sequence also underlines the director-writer’s statement that people do not intend to cause harm to innocent people but end up doing so, because they don’t have a broader overview.

There are no villains, or at least there is no vicious intention in a single character of Court. Yet, everyone, including the judge, lawyers and cops, end up being responsible for an innocent and ageing man’s suffering. And that, sadly is the harsh reality of today’s society.

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