You won't see a better Indian film this year than 'Court'. Fact.
Marathi cinema is where it's at right now. Fact.
Despite the Hulk-like shadow of the Avengers sequel. Court is going to near packed houses. Most awesome fact.
Chaitanya Tamhane's 'Court' is another sensational film that proves how far and high regional cinema in India is soaring. It's a modern day masterpiece, and yes I know the word is thrown around a lot but this time.
'Court' catches proceedings on a sense of high note, a film depicted as a court case fought for the and against a Dalit poet, teacher and above all lower class activist Narayan Kamble fighting for a better, socially conscious, bias and consumerist free society. He is put into what can only be deemed an odd farcical situation in the most natural, realistic and above all believable way.
A case is lodged against him and one of his performances, where he allegedly incites gutter cleaners and manhole workers to commit suicide, in which case one; another lower cast man Vasudev (ironic considering the word means the god within us) has supposedly committed suicide.
All this forms the basis of a tale that embroils in off all people, An immigrant (Gujarati) upper class lawyer fighting for this man against a government sanction middle class lawyer and housewife with a Judge (in between the two structures) sitting to make the final verdict.
But as eloquently as Tamhane puts it in his biting commentary of our societal structures and judicial systems, it all doesn't matter. It's a perfect way to begin, a contradictory look at the two ends of the film.
As the long winding court case winds down after being turned on its head, with a secondary indictment on the lowly poet and his so called 'extremist' activities. Tamhane like he does throughout the film, spends excruciatingly detailed amount of time on letting the courtroom close down for until the summer holidays, up to the final lights by the last man remaining (an equally low status peon) man are switched off. He even gradually fades to black, playing with the audiences expectations. He then cuts away to the judge and his extended family and friends heading on a holiday trip.
For the final ten to fifteen minutes, nothing of note really happens. All we find are these people balanced between the lower and upper classes through their tastes, status and actual thinking. The final shot leaving us with a bunch of kids pulling a prank on the sleeping judge and being shouted at for it. It's an end that is thoroughly pointless but once again holds weight for it's nothingness, just like the whole court case and the hollow system around it.
Tamhane uses these character excursions multiple times in his film, each point or scathing remark balanced in its nature for characters just doing their mundane jobs and fighting a fight that never lets go but never really amounts to anything.
He revels in quite the details, his editing kept crisp by the contradictory fact that he lingers on frames for longer than usual. Wrenching out details and the kind of individual ideas and worlds each set of characters lives in.
The opening a scene of the Dalit, simply educating a bunch of children of their country. His next a harsh but painfully truthful poem on caste segregation and consumerism, ironically also lambasting our need as a people whether of poor or rich status to flock to these malls (where most will be watching this gem). After which he is courted off to prison and then eventually court.
The case never gets out of hand, for an Indian film let alone a film at all, the proceedings are handled with a beautifully textured natural restraint. There's not shouting or constant arguing, there's a sense that Tamhane makes a mockery of our ideas of the court and judicial system thanks to cinema and also off the ineptitude and slow pace of the system itself.
Really for a film so pointedly odd in terms of conflict but sharp realism, there's an innate satire Tamhane naturally brings that doesn't feel like comedy but more like laughing at painful truths. It's what makes his film all round so perfect, he literally scoops the viewer up and engages them. Forcing them to follow but also keeping them at bay and engaged.
Off the other characters he does the same, the rich lawyer Vinay (Vivek Gomber) is shown as a very sharp individual but also one who keeps his head bowed to the faulty system. Unlike the man he defends, he doesn't fight against external forces keeping his focus on the court proceedings at hand. He traverses far and wide within the slum areas of Mumbai looking uncomfortable, speaking pure English in the face of a language barrier he harshly faces. He also isn't well versed in being open about other thoughts, his remarks against a certain caste acting as both an harsh degradation of their values as well as an equally thoughtful commentary on certain outdated social practices.
This thin line is walked like a tightrope, like a master. On the other end is the middle class prosecution lawyer Nutan (Geetanjali Kulkarni), who speaks lengthy passages of the case and law in broken English, comments on the simplicity of the case and its unfortunate pace as well as simply speaking of things such as cooking at home and all. Her life juxtaposed wonderfully in a conversation with a local female traveler about the expenses of Olive oil, when just a few scenes ago Tamhane lustfully lingered the lens on a sophisticated market where Vinay picked up six bottles of Olive oil so nonchalantly.
It all ties them too one place, the 'Court'. It doesn't matter about their class, caste or language, it is a place where they meet and fight for the truth and the justice. Something that is what Kamble is simply calling at arms for. Yet Kamble rarely appears in this essential area, he is but a specter pushing forward a simplistic but rich narrative. He is at the fore, playing a part in a game that in the outside (in some form, the real world) that doesn't matter. This is because even though the court deals in justice without bias or judgment (though in a sporadically comedic moment, Tamhane reveals women cannot come to court in a sleeveless blouse , thus presenting how outdated the system is) it is at its core thoroughly flawed, thanks to those outside (an elite class of its own) using their prowess to throw a threat like Kamble back in, again and again, against all costs.
This tying into the one thing Tamhane distracts us from, thanks to his meticulous pacing and excellent use of long shots; what really happened to Vasudev?
Well Vasudev was a simple and stereotypical wife abusing man who died by years of poisoning in the sewers he would clean because the government was unwilling to supply him with the right safety equipment. The father of ironies in the film, the kind of thing and people Kamble was fighting against.
At the end of it Tamhane makes it simple, it just doesn't matter. He even involves the audience in this, he makes us laugh but he distracts from the issue at hand, he pushes us to find it and make a difference or paint this as either an enjoyable two hours or a cinematic experience.
We're never going to stand up and make a change. Yet he never forces us to or tells us to, he just says it as it is. Fact.
Narratively there's a lot more to dissect, and despite watching it twice in one week it requires quite the attention and multiple viewing to truly mine into the depth that Tamhane brings.
Technically sound, the use of long shots and deliberate editing adds to the flavor and makes one take heed of the details hiding in the film. A natural ambience and set of sounds, helps elevate the realism of the piece. The acting is equally natural, the performers segueing into the narrative with ease and playing their parts like they should.
Overall 'Court' is as I said, a genuine masterpiece and worth catching. It has already got a huge thumbs up from the International circuit and a great boost thanks to the Rotterdam Film Festival.
While the 'Age of Ultron' maybe upon the world, this small but powerful gem proves that the Age of Marathi cinema is going good in India today.
If it's in a theaters near you, don't miss it! A perfect 5 out of 5 stars!