‘The Court’ is unapologetically unconventional

‘The Court’ is by far one of the best court-kacheri films we’ve seen after ‘Aakrosh (1980)’, ‘Mohan Joshi Haazir Ho (1984)’, and the recent ones like ‘Jolly LLB’ and ‘Shahid’. It’s surely much more than courtroom dramas, devoid of ‘Milord mere kaabil dost’, ‘Tamaam gawaah, bayaanaat aur sabooton ko maddhyanazar rakhte hue yeh adalat Tāzīrāt-e-Hind…’, ‘Order order!’ ‘Taarikh pe taarikh’ kind of court clichés we’ve grown up watching in our films.

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The best part is ‘The Court’ gives you perceptions of key protagonists of the film. A Marathi film with generously spread English scenes and sprinkled with Gujarati and Hindi, ‘The Court’ has no ‘hero’, ‘villain’ or ‘supporting actor’ in this ‘unconventional’ film. Well, since we’re accustomed to this format, let me give you the perspective director Chaitanya Tamhane generously serves his audience:

‘Hero’

There are two ‘heroes’ in ‘The Court’. Vira Sathidar, as Narayan Kamble plays an ‘activist folk singer’. His lyrics are redolent of rebellion; his compositions stir up emotions, and his resilience leaves you in awe. So much so that he is accused of abetting a gutter-cleaning man to commit suicide. This 65-year old guy has been raising his voice against the system on stage and is routinely arrested throughout his life and hence isn’t shocked at the sight of cops approaching.

This fact isn’t illustrated by some back-story or voiceover, but a simple scene where he is being arrested in a printing press. While the cops question him (which is stylishly muted against the din of the printing press), there’s this guy paginating a magazine with clockwork precision, undeterred by the proceedings.

Vivek Gomber as Vinay Vora, is a public prosecutor with strong ideals and equally strong financial background. The financial background here plays a crucial role in defining his character, who doesn’t mind shelling out 1 lakh rupees to bail out his client, only to later tell him coolly, “Jab ho tab lauta dena…”

This makes one wonder whether ideals are a privilege that only the affluent can afford. But there are many filthily rich people who don’t give a damn about how the poor are exploited. The lack of safety measures by Municipal Corporation isn’t an issue we get to read on the front pages. For instance, we always know the gutter cleaners are mostly drunk. It’s their way of surviving a job that requires to get their hands dirty, literally. It was quite a revelation that the only way for them to know whether it’s safe to work inside a gutter is by throwing a pebble inside it. If cockroaches emerge, it’s safe and if not, it’s a holiday.

In hindsight, if Writer-Director Chaitanya Tamhane would have chosen to portray Vinay Vora’s character as a middle class public prosecutor fighting for the rights of the downtrodden would turned him into yet another Naseeruddin Shah of ‘Aakrosh’. Actor Vivek Gomber essays his role with conviction of a pro, something that might make Naseer saab smile.

‘Villain’

The ‘villain’, so to speak here is Geetanjali Kulkarni as public prosecutor Nutan, battling against Vinay Vora. A mother who cares for her kids and husband, a middle class who dreams of being able to afford olive oil to cook her daily food, a relentless prosecutor who seems to have learned the law by rote and wouldn’t give in to the defending prosecutor – has been played with such authenticity that she comes across as someone quite familiar to you. The final definition of her character is the theme of a Marathi play she enjoys watching with her family on a weekend.

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‘Supporting actor’

The judge here isn’t a lazy-lousy obese guy with reading glasses and droopy eyes. Here the judge, too, is judged by the audience. Pradeep Joshi as Judge Sadavarte is a family guy who is in awe of the eight figured salaried IIM pass-outs of this generation. A bit superstitious, he believes in almost everything remotely suggesting capitalism. A sequence of Pradeep Joshi’s family outing in a resort speaks volumes on the character of Judge Sadavarte.

I am not sure if it’s intentionally done as a metaphor, but there’s a scene where he is napping on a park bench and few kids suddenly scream and run away. He wakes up in shock, and reprimands his grandkid for their acts. This perhaps is a reflection of his day-to-day life as a judge, where he might be irked by someone like Vinay Vora waking him up from a blissful slumber of conventional thinking.

Writer-Director Chaitanya Tamhane peeks into the lives of all key characters, the ‘hero’, ‘villain’, and ‘supporting actor’ purely to reward us the perspective to know where these characters are coming from, making us draw the parallels and accept the truth, as it is, and as it seems to remain so, after we walk out of the auditorium.

Edited by Rikhav Desai and shot by Mrinal Desai, ‘The Court’ is a film where the camera doesn’t move throughout the film, but ensures that you do.

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