Court offers a peek into India’s judiciary system, and seamlessly exposes its many flaws.
“An impressive debut (…) thanks to an intelligent, superbly understated script.” – Variety
Although Bollywood gets most of the attention, independent cinema out of India is the real star in the world of movies. Last year, we had the chance to watch Court, directed by Chaitanya Tamhane, when it was featured at the Venice International Film Festival. Court won the Lion of the Future Award & Orizzonti Award for Best Film at the festival.
The film follows Narayan Kamble, a 65 year old tutor, and folk-singer, who is accused of abetting a young man’s suicide with the lyrics of his songs. The deceased was a sewer worker, who was found dead in a manhole in Mumbai. Throughout the film we see that the death has little to do with Narayan, and more to do with larger powers in play. We also see the instability, and weakness of the cases for which innocent people are held in prison for lengthy amounts of time. The cast also includes Narayans defense attorney Vinay Vora, Judge Sadavarte, and Nutan, the public prosecutor making the case against Narayan. Most chilling, is the performance given by dead man’s widow, Sharmila.
The court itself is like a factory, and the accused are like the products on an assembly-line. The whole process seems so cold and distant, but at the same time, a bit of warmth is given to the characters we initially see as inhumane. Here is the true magic of the film. The Judge and Nutan are not antagonized, instead we are given a glimpse into their lives – context, to show them as people, not just characters. We see where they come from and what their home life is like, which affects our willingness to demonize them.
The film also addresses issues of class within India. There is the juxtaposition of Vora, who can afford to eat at posh restaurants and supperclubs, and Nutan, who comes home from a grueling day of work to scrape together dinner for her two young kids and sick husband. We see the extreme highs and lows of India’s population, and how this causes a butterfly effect by influencing the lives of other people.
The overall style of the film is very minimalist, which causes a kind of eeriness. Much of the action happens off screen. Conversations take place which we see, but cannot hear, and actions happen off screen which we can hear, but cannot see. The film is hauntingly quiet, with no soundtrack to keep your mind occupied. There are uncomfortably long moments of silence in between the dialogue, leaving you to stew in your own fearful predictions of Narayan’s fate.
Don’t miss Court when the film makes it to your city. Court had its U.S. premiere at the New York New Directors/New Films Festival last month, and is now playing at select theatres across India and the world. Check local listings for theatres.