You know you are getting really old when someone who looks just a couple of years older than your 17 year old son directs a film that leaves you gaping at the screen in mute wonder……

Court premiered at the 71st Venice International Film Festival in 2014 and won the Best Film in the Horizons category and the Luigi De Laurentiis (Lion Of The Future) award for writer director Chaitanya Tamhane. It went on to win 18 other awards at various film festivals, including honours at the Mumbai, Vienna, Antalya, and Singapore film festivals. And in 2015, it won the Best Feature Film award at the 62nd National Film Awards.

Described as a courtroom drama, Court is actually much more than just that. While it is true that no film has given us a clearer view of the Indian judicial system; seldom has any film created characters as finely nuanced as Court. Stark, simple, real, funny, sad, hopeful and frustrating, this multilingual film uses Marathi, Gujarati, Hindi and English with superb English subtitles for the likes of me who would not be able to understand a fair bit of the Marathi and Gujarati!

“In the dark times Will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing. About the dark times.”

― Bertolt Brecht

Court is about a singer and his songs. An ageing (and very obviously Dalit) folk singer and activist (Vira Sathidar as Narayan Kamble) is arrested for a crime that gets you laughing the moment it is announced. But the police officer who had him arrested is dead serious and even has a witness who testifies that this man was a perpetrator. Narayan Kamble is remanded in judicial custody and appears for his first, then second, third and many more court hearings over many months. Through fabulously crafted scenes, Tamhane gives us glimpses of our own legal system that will leave you laughing, mostly in disbelief and almost crying when you realize how archaic and farcical the entire system is. Kamble’s fate hangs in the hands of three people, a progressive, upper middle class defense lawyer Vinay Vora, a conservative, slightly lower middle class public prosecutor Nutan and the reputed but prejudiced, quick decision making judge Sadavarte. If you, like me have always wondered why legal proceedings in our country take forever, this film will provide the answer!

Through a cast made up of newcomers to cinema, this film takes us on a journey through the Indian legal system, stereotypes, middle class mentality, prejudices and illogical beliefs and systems. Vivek Gomber as Vinay Vora, Geetanjali Kulkarni as Nutan and Pradeep Joshi as Judge Sadavarte perform so well that you would be forgiven for labelling Court a documentary instead of a feature film. While I have seen and loved Geetanjali Kulkarni in 2 fabulous plays, Sex, Morality and Censorship and Piya Behrupia and knew of her calibre as a very superior actress, the other two more than support her with their perfect character portrayals. Worthy of mention is Usha Bane as Sharmila Pawar, in a very small role towards the end that leaves a mark despite lack of too much screen time. Wonderful
production design by Somnath Pal and Pooja Talreja, very skilful editing by Rikhav Desai and of course brilliant story and direction by the very special debutant director Chaitanya Tamhane ensure the film does not lose focus for even a moment.

Tamhane does what very few filmmakers dare to do……leave us without a finite ending, with many questions and a lot to ponder. The gentleman sitting behind us was very disgruntled….”Very abrupt ending. Not good at all.” was his gloomy summary as soon as the credits started rolling. Joy and I smiled in empathy. It really is difficult for our Bollywood fed brains to leave a theatre and think for ourselves. Most of us prefer a clean and clear finale, with all loose ends tied up neatly, like a gift wrapped offering, so we do not have to pressurize our already occupied minds. Damn you Chaitanya, for eschewing this long established format!

I usually do not rate films, but do wish to start with this one. This would get a 4.5 on 5 and I would definitely call it the finest release of 2015. Please go watch it before it gets gobbled up by Gabbar!!!

Copyright © Taraa Vermaa Senguptaa April 2015
All Rights Reserved