Movie Review: Court

April 17, 2015

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

Chaitanya Tamhane‘s “Court” is a chronicle of the mundane – a housewife cooks dinner, a lawyer reads something in a monotone, another character shops for groceries. Yet, it is through the mundane that Tamhane weaves magic. “Court” is a rare film that creates drama out of the humdrum lives of ordinary people, whose limited world view and biases affect the lives of others in more ways than they can imagine.

Narayan Kamble (Vira Sathidar), an ageing folk singer, is arrested and charged with abetting suicide, because a sewer worker is found dead two days after he attended a street performance by the singer. The law takes its course at a glacial pace. Director Tamhane makes no attempt to speed up the proceedings. But it doesn’t hinder the film.

Tamhane intersperses the court scenes with snippets from the lives of the two lawyers and the judge, providing viewers an insight into the people deciding Kamble’s fate. The prosecution lawyer (Geetanjali Kulkarni) who laughs at crass jokes about immigrants crowding Mumbai, and cooks for her husband and children at the end of the day. The Gujarati lawyer who defends Kamble pro bono and unwinds with jazz and wine.

It is this observation that is the biggest achievement for “Court”. Tamhane gets the milieu, the atmosphere, and the people right. This is also a film that plays off Mumbai and its politics – whether it is the immigrant debate or the lack of infrastructure or facilities for the city’s lowest class.

At a little under two hours, “Court” is replete with not just wonderful performances, but also powerful statements on the judicial system in India and the archaic nature of its laws. Tamhane uses Kamble’s character to make scathing comments on freedom of expression and viewpoints that do not conform.

The casting by Satchit Puranik and cinematography by Mrinal Desai deserve as much praise as Tamhane’s direction. Be it Kamble, the sewer worker’s wife, or a boisterous group of vacationers singing songs on a bus – everyone is a natural fit for their roles. Desai’s camera is never intrusive, but always aware, capturing details such as a bored court assistant playing with her mobile phone, oblivious to the travesty of justice before her.

“Court” is a multi-lingual film that many will need subtitles to watch, but it is one of the best films of 2015. Do not miss this one.

(Editing by Tony Tharakan; Follow Shilpa on Twitter @shilpajay and Tony @TonyTharakan. This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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