Throw in a couple of melodramatic tareekh-pe-tareekh dialogues, churn them with some fist banging on the table with some fitting background score and bam! There was your insaaf (justice). Well, this was how a typical courtroom scene worked until the likes of Shahid and Jolly LLB made it to the Hindi cinema landscape. Chaitanya Tamhane with his directorial debut Court joins these makers of realistic cinema and is quite the antithesis of what a typical court scene in Bollywood films looks like.
The movie revolves around a 65-year-old folk singer Narayan Kamble (Vira Sathidar), who has been accused of abetting the suicide of a young
sewerage worker Vasudev Pawar and is facing trial. Ironically, the abetment is said to have been caused by one of the poet’s fiery folk songs raging against the injustice meted out to the oppressed. The accused, however, seems to have no recollection of even having met the victim. The absurd and ludicrous nature of the charge sets the sardonic tone of the film at the onset. Chaitanya presents us with a verisimilitude of the Indian courtroom and its working dynamics. His film blatantly lays bare the incongruity and disappointment that the country’s legal system has become.
The film zooms out of the courtroom to reflect upon and reveal the socio-economic frame its characters are situated in. This, in turn, underlines the intrinsic prejudice and twisted beliefs of the characters involved and how they affect or do not affect the way justice is delivered. The public prosecutor Nutan (Geetanjali Kulkarni), who is from a typical Maharashtrian middle-class family, is surprisingly devoid of any sense of the collective and does not empathise with Kamble, a Dalit. Her stark apathy towards the accused is contrasted with the sensitivity of activist-lawyer Vinay Vora (Vivek Gomber), a cheese- and wine-picking, well-off Gujarati who chooses to defend the ageing poet.
Then there is judge Sadavarte, who is seen mechanically pronouncing orders and is more concerned with hastily wrapping up the case. Given the nonsensical nature of the case, the incompetence of the dispensers of justice and the jumbled court sessions, Kamble lapses into a spiral of never-ending nightmares anticipating a Kafkaesque world.
Moving further down the rabbit hole, Chaitanya reveals the inhuman conditions that sewer workers are forced to live in and lays bare the inefficiency and corruption entrenched in the Indian political system.
Court does not flinch from showcasing the loopholes in the legal system and gives the audience an honest picture of the class and caste politics that underline them. However, it does so in a tone that is refined and discreet so as to refrain from turning the work into a didactic and moralistic project. Shot in real locations and with an inspiring cast comprising both professional and amateur actors, the film effortlessly manages to enter the audience’s psyche and justifies its winning the Best Film at the 71st Venice International Film Festival.