Thursday, April 21, 2016

Court - Movie Review

'Court' is a Marathi movie directed by a debut director Chaitanya Tamhane. The movie won several awards in festivals and was India's nomination for the Academy Awards. It won the National Award for Best Feature Film in the 62nd National Film Awards 2014. Enough said.

The moment I saw the DVDin Crossword, I picked it up. I've been wanting to watch this movie for a long time. It starts with the camera following Narayan Kamble an aging folk artiste, obviously from the impoverished and backward sections of society, who gives folk performances with songs that speak against society and its discrimination. Kamble is soon picked up for abetting the suicide of a manual scavenger who died inhaling noxious fumes while cleaning a manhole. He was under the influence of alcohol. The police however conclude that the deceased had committed the act based on a song sung by Narayan Kamble outside the deceased's house where Kamble urged manual scavengers to kill themselves. Kamble says he has not sung any song like that ever but he says there is no reason why he should not sing a song like that. After all it's better to die than clean manholes.

Kamble is defended by a passionate and idealistic lawyer Vinay Vora who fights against a legal system that is loaded with bias, prejudice, incompetence, impatience and insensitivity. The casual way in which charges are framed, the stock witnesses, the ridiculous story that has no basis are all carried out with utmost seriousness. The Public Prosecutor pursues her role to the best of her capacity - at one point telling her colleagues that the judge should simply throw these people into jail for 20 years so they don't keep coming back to bother the system. The police finally let go of Kamble for lack of evidence.

But the police force's biases, the hopelessness of the folk artiste and his troupe all end in another baseless call to the court on another fabricated case against him and the troupe for using workshops as a front to conduct seditious and anti-national activities and misleading people. This time the police arrest Kamble a day before the summer vacation so there is no respite for him for a month. The judge also shows his beliefs and personal mannerisms while on his vacation when he tells a relative to use numerology and gemology to get over certain personal issues. And the way he screams at children who playfully wake him up making them cry.

The film is brilliant in its understated manner. Kamble is fantastic as he goes about his life between courts and police in the most casual of manners. He is used to it but will not give up fighting for his people. The rest of the incompetence has been on show in all our big cases - from Arsushi Talwar to Kanhaiya Kumar - where perhaps the ones who committed the crimes are out free and someone else is picked up. Despite its utterly understated and minimalistic manner, 'Court' is worth watching again and is certainly recommended. What's fascinating is that Tamhane somehow uses the frustrating, dreary and boring courtroom discussions and procedures as real as possible and thus keeps the drama alive. We all know it only too well, don't we?

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