Court is, appropriately enough, an Indian courtroom drama written and directed by Chaitanya Tamhane in his feature length debut. It's released in UK cinemas this Friday and you can find a screening near you here: https://film.list.co.uk/.
The plot concerns 65-year old activist and folk singer Narayan Kamble who is charged with abetting the suicide of a sewage worker through his lyrics. The film follows the personal lives of the Judge, the Public prosecutor & the activist's lawyer as the case drags on for months due to numerous technicalities and delays.
This is a film with a very clear target; the complete and utter failure of the Indian judicial system. It takes aim at the outmoded, under-resourced and conservative system of law giving in India today and as such is a very insightful and important film. This is mainly portrayed via the prosecutor for the case, brilliantly played by Geetanjali Kulkarni, as she sticks to the letter of the law without question, utilises paid witnesses and generally sees Kamble as an obstacle, not a person.
The film is also at pains to show that it is not only individuals within the system but the system itself which is at fault. Cases are dealt with en masse in ram shackle courts with barely an electronic device in site and are stalled for months at a time due to the smallest of case developments. As is pointed out in the film many of the out-dated laws, practises and morals within Indian are directly a result of the British colonisation of the country and as a British national this really hit home. There are also a whole host of other rich topics at play here ranging from racism to sexism, economic inequality and freedom of speech.
Court is deliberately paced, dry and still in it's presentation of the narrative. It's a very slow film which takes it's time to make you really feel the frustration of the characters. The camera work is almost all static wide shots to boost verisimilitude and avoid distracting the viewer from the message of the film. There are no dramatic courtroom speeches or rousing music to be found here and I appreciated this approach a lot.
It's also interesting to note that many of the actors were non-professionals and were actual workers from the area. Tamhane and the rest of his crew also did a vast amount of research into the topic – going to court hearings, interviewing people and touching base with activists and political groups – showing a real dedication to realistic representation.
The sound design adds a lot here as the director chose not to mute background noises, as is the norm, but to accentuate them instead. The use of mise-en-scene is interesting also as there's always so many figures moving and things going on in the background. Both these elements suggestion a world where so much is happening but very little is actually getting done.
Indeed not all our time is spent in the courts as the film often takes detours into the lives of the primary players – we watch as Kamble's lawyer lives his affluent, somewhat Westernised lifestyle, the prosecutor cooks for her family and attends the theatre and the wealthy judge attends a holiday camp in the sun. These scenes expand the world of the film – giving each character more depth and further solidifying the film's themes.
There are also several instances when our main characters leave the court room but the camera stays behind and we get to listen in on other cases which shows that this can, and does, happen to everyone. There's no scored soundtrack to the film but the two scenes of Kamble and his band playing to street crowds are fantastic sonic highlights. There are also a few hilarious scenes where Kamble's lawyer clashes with his more traditional family and these scenes had me in stitches.
Although I've praised the film's restraint and commitment to realism I did find it a bit too slow and dry and ultimately it left me feeling a little cold. Likewise the scenes which follow the various characters from court to home were a nice touch but I still felt like I was being held at arms length from their emotions. It reminded me of the film Timbuktu – I was very interested in the topic but the tone of the film hindered me from fully engaging with the material.
Like that film I could also tell that there were various cultural nuances that I was missing completely, which was a shame, but wasn't a deal breaker. Another thing which didn't connect with me was that critics have described the absurdity of the court scenes as funny - but I actually found them more depressing and frustrating than humorous. Sadly Kamble is barely in the film at all. This is a shame because I found him to be the most interesting character of the lot and would have loved to have heard him speak, and play his brilliant music, far more.
My final criticism of the film is that whilst the vast majority of the film's social critique is smart and elegant there are a few moments of characterisation which felt clumsy and heavy handed such as when the prosecutor goes to see the previously mentioned xenophobic play or the last scene in which we witness the judge smack a young child who was playing a harmless prank on him.
Despite these issues I still thoroughly enjoyed Court as it's a hugely thought provoking and sensitive film. I'm going to give it a 7/10 and would recommend it to fans of Jai Bhim Comrade, A Separation, Wendy and Lucy and Police, Adjective.
Have you seen Court, and if so what did you think of it? As always, let me know in the comments below and make sure to subscribe for more reviews coming soon!