Reviews

Court: Examining the enemy

A scene from the movie

A scene from the movie  

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Genre: Drama

Director: Chaitanya Tamhane

Cast: Vira Sathidar, Vivek Gomber, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Pradeep Joshi

For those of us who have grown up on the diet of Bollywood’s court room dramas, Chaitanya Tamhane’s film will come as a reality check. Devoid of the dramatic showdowns between lawyers showcasing their knowledge of Urdu, the film takes us to dreary alleys of our judicial system where there is no Sunny Deol or Amrish Puri to liven up the proceedings. Instead we have Narayan Kamble, a Dalit singer and activist who is charged with abetting the suicide of a conservancy worker.

The prosecution feels that the worker drowned himself in the manhole after listening to Kamble’s inciteful song.

The aging singer maintains that he hasn’t written such a song but he doesn’t mind writing such a song. No, it is not just a satire where the one-liners keep coming. It is not just a diatribe in support of freedom of speech and against dysfunctional judiciary. It is not just a canvas to show how the marginalised are constantly being pushed into a corner without you and me even realising it.

It is life as it is even as Kamble exhorts to look for the real enemy. And as the adversary begins to take shape, the conscience pricks big time.

It is the ordinariness of Chaitanya’s mise-en-scene that makes his work extraordinary.

Peeling walls, the chaos in court rooms, the curious ways of the law, long shots, non-actors, all of them combine to give the film a unique rhythm and character. At times it makes you chuckle, at others it puts a lump in the throat but it never gets strident or judgemental.

Even as you begin to feel that the narrative is falling into a pattern, Chaitanya breaks away from the hero and villain business to give us insight not just into the lives of the supposed victims but also those who have to decide their fate.

A judge who seems neutral but believes in numerology, a well-heeled activist and defence lawyer, who loves his jazz and drink but doesn’t mind going the extra yard for his poor client. A feisty prosecutor, who almost turns into a housewife after the court hours, Chaitanya humanises these people, whose images often become a victim of our preconceived notions. He lends them dignity and explores the social and mental space that they inhabit.

And with its smooth amalgamation of Marathi, Hindi, English and Gujarati, Court is a timely reminder to those who bracket cinema in languages. Don’t miss the date!

Bottomline: An accomplished piece of work whose natural tone is surreal.

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