The film moves at such a slow pace and every scene takes its own time. But there is a deep rooted intention that surfaces out once the film anchors you inside. The slow pace reflects the reality of the inefficient & bureaucratic Indian judicial system and the pace is indeed a critique of the speed at which the cases move in the system.
An elderly social activist, Narayan Kamble, is accused and arrested for inciting the suicide of a Mumbai sewage cleaner, Vasudev Pawar. The film tracks the trial of the case with scene after scene in the court rooms that involves two lawyers, Vinay Vohra and Nutan along with the Judge. In addition, it showcases the personal sides of the lawyers and the judge. The movement between the courtroom and the lawyer’s dining rooms exposes the flaws in the judicial system and the larger system.
The public prosecutor, Nutan, is from a middle class family who goes to pick up her kids from school at the end of the day’s work, cooks dinner for the family and then spends some time working on her case. She reads out long sentences from the law, gets convinced by a witness presented by the police officer and asks questions that reveal her already conclusive mindset. She watches a Marathi drama that has regressive views on migrant workers and thoroughly enjoys the ideas presented in the drama. She presents the ‘bookish’ class toppers that we see in schools who end up being an ordinary guy in the work place. Nutan’s character is a critique of the Indian education system that prepares ‘bookish’ people with no empathy and no worldly views.
The judge shows his fixated mindset through his questions and conclusions. One example is when he asks the accused to pay Rs.100,000 for bail and when the lawyer explains that he is not from such a financial background to pay this amount, the judge doesn’t listen. When the lawyer points out that there is one month holiday for the courts and that it is important to give him bail on the last working day, he says that the accused can go to the high court which is open during the time.
The young lawyer, Vinay, is from a wealthy family who goes to a high end bar that has singers performing Brazilian songs, shops for wine & cheese and even, attends a session on social responsibility. He is the ‘rebel’ in the Indian sense who gets angry when his parents talk of finding the right girl for his marriage and one who goes beyond his boundaries to understand the problem. For example, he visits the victim’s house, drops the victim’s wife after she presents herself at court and even, pays a large amount for the bail to support his client.
As the trial drags on, it becomes increasingly clear that there is no clear evidence against Narayan Kamble. The deceased’s wife presents herself in the court and she helps to understand that there is less likelihood of a suicide. The deceased was not provided any protective gear when he entered the gutter to clean it and he used to drink alcohol before he entered the gutter to overcome the strong stench inside. After the court hearing, the young lawyer drives her back to her place and she asks him to help her find a job.
It was an outstanding sequence that exposes so many layers in the society with such finesse and detail. When the judge is taking to the deceased’s wife, his assistant is using her cell phone and when the judge turns to her with his notes, she puts the phone down and starts typing the notes. In the background, one can see people walking in the hall and it presents a realistic court scene. The wife of the deceased shares a shocking insight into her husband’s work where he will check whether cockroaches are coming out of the gutter which is his indicator that there is oxygen inside the gutter. When he drives her back to home, he asks her to wear seatbelt which she doesn’t know what it is and she asks her for work showcasing her hapless life that was fully dependent on her husband before. It was full of contrasts.
The camera is fixed and offers a panoramic view of every scene. It is almost like a window into that world in the script, be it the courtroom or the lawyers’ dining with the families or visiting the deceased person’s house. It allows the viewers to see the world around the characters to understand the characters and their attitude towards life. There is no music, no heroism, no negative shades and it is a narrative that allows you to see the world as it is without any pretensions.
Even when it is fully clear that there is no evidence against the accused, the police frame him in another case of sedition and the whole process gets restarted where the public prosecutor reads out a long paragraph on sedition charges. The scene ends with the camera completely still till every character leaves the courtroom and then, there is a 3 – 5 sec pause to demonstrate how slow this case is going to be in the future. With 10 minutes left for the climax, the director shows the personal side of the judge who goes for a vacation with his relative. The personal side reveals an opinionated person who is obsessed with numerology and who is so intolerant that he beats up one of his relative kids for playfully disturbing him. The film ends there and leaves it to us to evaluate the system and its shortcomings.
I am surprised to learn that this is the 28 year old director, Chaitanya Tamhane’s debut film. He delivers one of the most powerful scripts through such an unconventional narrative that will leave you spellbound. The characters live in front of you, thanks to the cinematographer, who allows the frame to bring out the various hues in the characters, society and the system. There is no music which makes the film even more compelling and all the actors deliver such a subtle, realistic performance. At no point, you will feel that someone is acting and every character is beautifully designed. Without melodrama, the director has made a film that is focused on serving your brain.
Films usually demonstrate violence through blood and gory scenes. This movie has more violence than any other movies – The judge cancels a hearing citing that the lady accused was wearing a sleeveless dress sans blood and gory scenes — it shows the societal violence in our everyday lives and how it manifests in every form. Even the idea that such judges and lawyers with regressive views decide the fate of the accused will cause so much anger and violence inside the viewer which is the success of this film.
This Marathi film is a pride to Indian cinema and these kind of films need to be taken all over India to educate people on what film making is all about – bringing a world in its most original form so that we can experience it even when we cannot live in it.
Court – What Maldives is for nature, Court is for film making. PURE!