‘Court’ is a far cry from the standard courtroom drama, but this Indian film finds its own niche, says Darragh Finnegan.
Writer/Director Chaitanya Tamhane (Six Strands) underlines the flawed Indian judicial system and the country’s evolving society in his first feature length film. Court takes place in modern day India, where traditional and modern influences are clashing in almost every aspect of society. Narayan Kamble (Vira Sathidar), a poet, teacher and folk singer is arrested for preforming a song which causes a sewer cleaner to commit suicide. He’s being held responsible for the death.
Vinay Vora (Vivek Gomber) is the well-off lawyer who, working as a public defender, takes Kambles case. Vora is part of the new age elite in India, shopping at an upscale market with no regard for price, attending an high-end club with his aristocratic friends and repeatedly speaking English in court. Arguing against him is Prosecutor Nutan (Geetanjali Kulkarni), a mother of two, who leads a more traditional life. She is seen collecting her son from school and cooking for her family, who eat in front of the TV. The opposing lawyers engage in a painstakingly long legal battle, repeatedly delayed by witnesses failing to show and archaic legal bureaucracy. The stagnant proceedings are overseen by Judge Sadavarte (Pradeep Joshi) who upholds India’s antiquated laws to the letter. In one scene he dismisses a woman from court for wearing a sleeveless top.
It is quickly apparent that the state has no real case against Kamble, but the prosecution is intent on harassing him. Nutan has built her case on outdated laws and an evidently coerced witness. Vora, having proven beyond reasonable doubt that the death of the sewer worker was an accident, secures bail for Kamble. However it’s evident that the government will refuse to leave the folk singer alone.
The plodding pace of courtroom is interrupted by an attack on Vora for speaking against a sect. He is shaken by this attack and we see him having a breakdown soon after, saddened by the regressive nature of his country. This is in contrast to Nutan, who reads the charges against the accused in English but quickly reverts back to Marathi, highlighting how the pair and the ideals they represent are like night and day.
Tamhane handles his cast with obvious skill. The more experienced like Gomber (who also produced the film) are joined by newcomers like Vira Sathidar, and they complement each other well. The actress who plays the widow to the deceased is widowed in real life. Not only this, but her husband was a manhole worker.
The slow pace of the film is amplified by lingering camerawork from Mrinal Desai. Tamhane chooses not to cut to the next scene for seconds, sometimes minutes, giving the film a completely different feel to the tried and tested courtroom drama. His unique exploration of the central characters and their motives gives this one-sided legal battle some dramatic foundations.
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