Court is unlike anything that I have seen in years. It is a film that defies every convention of popular Indian cinema and yet manages to stand tall primarily because of its content and the undercurrent of humor that I believe most viewers will miss the first time they watch this film. Court didn’t release in Assam, where I hail from and so I had to watch it for the first time on home video. It is one of those unique films that I watched immediately a second time as soon as I was done watching it the first time. It is extremely difficult to summarize the plot of the film as it isn’t made in the conventional way of a three act narrative. The story is just a collection of events that propagates through the run-time of the film.
Narayan Kamble (Vira Sathidar) is a social activist and street singer who is known for his fiery songs that are aimed mostly at ridiculing the government machinery and its evident failures in basic matters. As the film begins, we watch Kamble being picked up on charges of abetting suicide of a sweeper, who the police believe committed suicide after being inspired by Kamble’s songs in which, he allegedly called upon all sweepers to commit suicide in the same gutters that they work in. Kamble is picked up with almost no evidence but on such serious charges that he is not allowed bail. Defending him is an idealistic lawyer Vinay Vora (Vivek Gomber), who as we see, has been fighting similar cases wherein he has been defending people who have been wrongly subjugated by the law and police. Prosecuting him is a Lawyer Nutan (Geetanjali Kulkarni), who is as much of a lawyer as she is a housewife (probably more of the later). She is a bad speaker and to a great extent an inept lawyer. Hearing them out is a judge Sadvarte (Pradeep Joshi) who is irritatingly archaic in his beliefs and understanding of the legal system. As the story progresses, we get a closer look at the lives of these men and women.
Court is for Chaitanya Tamhane what Citizen Kane was for Orson Welles. Looking at it superficially, this will be a hard film for many to sit through the first time but with each viewing newer nuances appear and the dark comedy and satire becomes more and more expressive. Hence the film becomes more and more poignant. As I watched it a second time and then a third time, I tried to keep track of some of the most darkly hilarious moments from the narrative that interestingly were actual recreations of authentic court proceedings.
- Narayan Kamble is arrested on charges of abetting suicide by singing a song that he hadn’t even written. When was the last time that we were inspired by a song enough to lay down our lives for it.
- The deceased is said to have been inspired by his words and committed suicide by getting into a drain without safety equipments when the fact is proved later that the victim never used any safety gears. Ever! He instead used the existence of cockroaches to decide whether or not a drain was safe to enter.
- The police provide just one stock witness who forgets his testimony half way through and accept the fact that they had picked up Kamble on complaints of a neighbor who didn’t even record his statement. Yet they put non-bailable charges on Kamble.
- The testimony of the deceased’s wife goes against the prosecution.
- Non-bailable charges are levied against a senior citizen without a shred of proof and the man is made to stay in jail for the duration of the court proceedings without a single charge proved against him.
At the very beginning of the film, defense lawyer Vinay is shown addressing a gathering of individuals about a particular case in which one of his client was arrested and released numerous times without any proof or witness whatsoever of a crime. This speech is actually a summary of the whole film and the manner in which the speech is impeded is a straight reference to the lack of empathy and concern for these serious and devastating atrocities that seem to have become a normal practice for the police and the legal system. As the case proceeds we see how easily, Vinay proves Kamble innocence. As he nears victory, He is smeared with black ink for hurting the feelings of a sect which again is all too well known to us.
The film is shot and edited in a unique way. The camera moves less. It lingers on specific individuals devouring their whole feeling throughout an exchange. If and when such a circumstance is a dialog, the verbals of the second party are heard in the background while the camera remains fixed on the first party. The film unfolds in long and continuous takes. There are cuts that are not exactly fluid giving you the idea of the haphazard nature of the content that are based on the equally haphazard proceedings of the court. Many key incidents happen off-screen with us only listening to the sounds of what was happening. The color temperatures are also kept extremely washed giving you an almost documentary style footage. That goes a long way into making the film that much more stark and believable.
Speaking of the performances, the film has only two professional actors. Vivek Gomber plays Vinay and he is stupendous. His act is so natural and believable that at many junctures I felt as if he was really a lawyer. What makes his act even better is the amount of attention he pays to the little details. One has to see the films a couple of times at-least to understand what I mean here. Geetanjali Kulkarni is great in her act . She is morbid, boring, inept and vengeful for no reason. As you see her fight, you believe that all she cares about is either to condemn the man or just get the next date so that she could run out of the court and get back to her household chores. Pradeep Joshi as the archaic judge is detestable. I felt like slapping him on the face for what he was doing. His act shows us how moronic and senseless a judge can be when he actually ties a black ribbon on his eyes and weighs in only on the evidences coming his way. Here he didn’t even have the evidence to condemn the man to the poor fate that he is kept in. Kamble rots in jail for months before granting him a bail for an amount that the man clearly didn’t have.
The film also boasts of some great music and lyrics. The only music is the songs of Kamble and they are ferocious. The manner in which Vira Sathidar enacts the songs will send chills down your spines. If you look closely, you will find a sense of dismay and sheer disgust at the failure of the system in all the songs. It’s almost ironic that Sathidar’s character falls prey to one of the many loopholes of the very same system that he condemns in his songs. He doesn’t forget to sing about it though. Court will now rank in my list of all time great films. I have seldom come across a film that has taken me more and more in to its narrative with every subsequent viewing. It is truly one of those films that re-instills our faith in Indian cinema.
Rating : 5/5 (5 out of 5 Stars)