Autumn 2015 Features series
Sunday, November 22, 2015 at 4:00pm
Sunday, November 22, 2015 at 7:00pm
Directed by Chaitanya Tamhane
Screenplay by Chaitanya Tamhane
Starring Usha Bane, Vivek Gomber, and Pradeep Joshi
Rated NR ·
Marathi, Gujarati, English, and Hindi /w subtitles
Winner of top prizes at the Venice and Mumbai film festivals, Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court is a quietly devastating, absurdist portrait of injustice, caste prejudice, and venal politics in contemporary India. An elderly folk singer and grassroots organizer, dubbed the “people’s poet,” is arrested on a trumped-up charge of inciting a sewage worker, whose dead body is found inside a manhole in Mumbai, to commit suicide. His trial is a ridiculous and harrowing display of institutional incompetence, with endless procedural delays, coached witnesses for the prosecution, and obsessive privileging of arcane colonial law over reason and mercy.
What truly distinguishes Court, however, is Tamhane’s brilliant ensemble cast of professional and nonprofessional actors; his affecting mixture of comedy and tragedy; and his naturalist approach to his characters and to Indian society as a whole, rich with complexity and contradiction.
I was surprised by my urge to explore the Indian judiciary. After all, so much has been done and said in the genre of courtroom dramas. But when I attended a nondescript lower court in suburban Mumbai, the sheer lack of drama, and the casualness with which life and death decisions were being made, was what sparked my imagination. Every face has a story of its own; the stenographer who disinterestedly types away all day, the peon who runs errands for a small bribe, the inarticulate lawyers reading out long, technical passages from outdated law books, the appellants who have probably spent years waiting for their case number to be called out. Amidst all this theatre, are the hopes and fears of ordinary people, who cling on to every word they can understand, as their fates are decided.
Although the film is set in very peculiar sub-cultures of Mumbai, the attempt is to explore the invisible fabric of a collective. The characters are constantly acting upon the invisible triggers of caste and class politics, patriarchy, and feudalism. The challenge for me was to lend dignity and humanity to these people, despite their flaws. (Chaitanya Tamhane)
“Indian filmmaker Chaitanya Tamhane’s first feature is a masterpiece, one of the best films of the year.” (Laya Maheshwari, RogerEbert.com)
“Managing to be both extremely rational and extremely humane, the film works so well thanks to an intelligent, superbly understated script and a feel for naturalism that extends beyond mere performance.” (Jay Weissberg, Variety)