London Indian Film Festival: Court Review
Legal systems are often lambasted for being slow, overly bureaucratic, and even tending towards the absurd. In Court, director and writer Chaitanya Tamhane demonstrates their prosaic day-to-day reality in Mumbai.
The film revolves around the case of folk singer Narayan Kamble (Vira Sathidar) who is accused of abetting suicide. The police find dead a young man who attended one of the singer’s performances: one of Kamble’s songs is said to have encouraged the act.
Defending him is Vinay Vora (Vivek Gomber), a successful human rights lawyer. Tamhane examines the lawyer’s life along with the case, showing him living a Westernised and wealthy lifestyle, which despite his kindness and professional ability, has led him to become disconnected from his own country. In contrast, the public prosecutor - a delicate performance by Geetanjali Kulkarni - is a mother of two, living within a more traditional setting, and represents a different aspect of middle class India. When Vinay Vora scoffs at archaic aspects of Indian law, her retorts are genuine - she is truly shocked.
The case is relayed from one court to the next, parading frightened or fake witnesses, unprofessional policemen, and exasperated judges. General confusion further ensues from each of these parties speaking and understanding different languages. The director generates a lot of humour from situations which in real life must be soul-wrenching, but with the Kafkaesque pervading every scene, it surely is better to laugh than to cry.
Tamhane’s script is a little dry. It focuses on no character in particular, leaving the audience without a stake in the plot. The film is also not exhaustively subtitled, so that short, side-conversations are sometimes omitted, which is a pity. Finally, its ending is odd, but that does at least add to the overall tone of the film.
Court is an acidic satire of India’s legal system and of the evolution of its middle class. It manages to be both entertaining and thoughtful, even while mainly staying in the realm of the absurd. It’s a curious, but inexpressive film.