Self-confessedly not the biggest advocate of a well-defined genre, Chaitanya Tamhane terms his National Award-winning film Court to be a product of his fascination with courtroom trials. Court was immensely lauded at several international film festivals. It was adjudged the best film at the 71st Venice International Festival and won the Luigi De Laurentiis Award for best debut film, to name a few. A graduate in English literature from Mithibai College, an ardent reader of filmmaking books, Tamhane has previously worked with Balaji Telefilms and has been part of several independent short films. In an interaction with Gizala Shabnam, he talks about his film’s nomination to the Oscars, realism and more.
Edited Excerpts from an interview
Your choice of a sewage worker and a Dalit folk singer as the protagonists is an unconventional one. Did you anticipate that the characters will resonate, as much as they have, with the upper middle class and more importantly, with the Western audience?
When I wrote the script, it was a real mystery to me as to who the audience for this film would be. I did not hope that the cultural nuances and caste politics in the film will resonate with a western audience. We also know that this kind of film is seen by an extremely limited number of people in India, since theatrical release is almost impossible for art-house films. After winning so many awards, having travelled the world with the film and a fairly decent run in the Indian theatres, I am still surprised by the reception the film has received. Some people say it has a universal appeal. I find it to be quite a paradox, given how deeply rooted the film is in its cultural context. All I can say is, Court has fared far better than I ever expected it to and that I can only be grateful for it.
The social background of the characters — the public prosecutor and the Gujarati elite activist — is juxtaposed with the ideological positions they take in the court. Was this a conscious choice?
I constructed the characters based on people I had seen around me and fused them with some imagination. The ideological juxtaposition that you talk about is not so black and white in my head. These characters have as many similarities as they have differences with each other. I allowed them to evolve organically and so did their juxtapositions.
Court has outrun some commendable movies like Masaan, NH10 in the Oscar’s race. Being an indie film, it is hard to even get it to the theatres, let alone being chosen for Oscars. What do you think worked in favour of Court?
I really wouldn’t want to think of it in terms of outrunning other films. These selections are a reflection of the taste of the jury members. Considering this choice was made especially for the Oscars, I am sure there were many different factors that must have been taken into account by the jury. With regard to what exactly worked in favour of Court, I really don’t know. If I had to take a guess, I would say the positive international reception of the film.