Director Chaitanya Tamhane
Starring Vira Sathidar, Vivek Gomber, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Pradeep Joshi, Usha Bane, Shirish Pawar
Language Marathi *English Subtitles
I am not going to build up to it. Court is a film that hit me in my gut. It was not only because it is a debut film of a director, who is all of 27 years old, that belies his age and life experience, and that it has gathered so many award internationally, but because as the film says through a song.. Don’t insult us by calling us artists… Art is just a way of hiding the truth… a bold statement indeed, when people discuss art vs life and the creative liberties that an artist must have. But does the artist become bigger than the truth? This film is a courtroom drama, but so much more than it and aims and presenting truth and nothing but the truth. And yes, it succeeds in great measures.
A film that is so layered, so full of symbolism, and mind you not of the kind which only the director will understand (wink). The characters are so minutely etched, it is a pleasure to know them.
The story, ah, that being the masterstroke, is of a folk singer/activist who is arrested under the charges of abetting the suicide of a gutter cleaner. Why? Because he performed in the locality where the gutter cleaner lived and two days later committed suicide, found in the same gutters he has spent most of his life cleaning. Even though the charge sounds highly ludicrous, the court takes it seriously. After all justice is serious business.
And thus unfolds the tale.. pitching so many worlds together, against each other… yet with each other, as you see the story progress.
Chaitanya Tamhane, the director uses each scene, almost every shot, to say something. He has managed to comment on a lot of things… and unlike some films, has managed to do it successfully.
The biggest achievement of the film for me was that it made me feel I am fighting the case, I was rooting so much for Narayan Kamble, that I wanted to scream out loud at the way our systems run. Stock witnesses to archaic laws, the apathy of the police, the dozing advocates and the Judge who keeps shifting from black to white to gray.
The detailing in the film is such a pleasure. Not showing off, but just being.. true. From the Public prosecutor who discusses olive oil prices in the local train, cooks dinner every night, and then finds time to go through her case, her routine life is without a spark, barring an occasional lunch at a Maharashtra thali joint, with her husband and two kids. She is the Mumbai Middle class, which works hard and still doesn’t make enough money. You know she has studied hard to be where she is, and with limited exposure, she relies on the tomes of law, reading her arguments verbatim. “But law is law, no” You want to bang your head when she drones on and on, and yet to see her, I mean really “see” her.
The defence lawyer… belonging to a rich Gujarati family, shops in Natures Basket, loves wine, Jazz and hanging out in swanky lounges. Yes, he is modern and privileged. Yet he fights for the have-nots. His refined self is in steep contrast to the drab courts, yet his largesse is what makes him more human and empathetic to his clients.
Within the scope of the story, Tamhane manages to address issues ranging from the caste divide to the lack of safety equipment for people in hazardous professions, where a cockroach is their saviour, to the UP Maharashtra divide, to the trend of outraging against anything and everything by the various preservers of communities. The steep poverty and the helplessness of the people who do not have resources to fight and can be picked up for anything deemed unlawful by the police, who is clueless to say the least.
The film is not from one cut to another, it breathes organically, as life is… you can leave the room, but the room is still brewing, he stays on scenes even when the characters have left and it works beautifully. The actors are par excellence, each one doing such a great job.
Nothing seems to be changing as centuries go by, we live in sad times, but there is also hope, there is also the need to raise our voice… and yes, as the climax again underlines… Justice meanwhile takes a leisurely nap.
I cried and clapped various times in the film, laughed at the inanities of our justice system but the feeling that was topmost was that of frustration and finally building to one of “I wish I could be of some consequence in this society we live in, be of help, coz this system is dead Jim”
My Verdict 4/5