An avid Hindi film lover has a quite interesting but unreal picture of an Indian courtroom in his mind full of phrases such as My Lord, Judge Sahib, Objection sustained, Objection Overruled, Order Order, Mere Kaabil Dost, Mr. Public Prosecutor, Case Ki Agli Sunvaayi, Tareekh Pe Tareekh and many more. Almost similar is the case when it comes to the depiction of Police Stations and the investigation process followed by the officers in charge too in our Hindi film scripts mainly looking for some fast paced, exciting entertainment for its paying audience.
However the truth remains shockingly contradicting to the onscreen presentation and that’s exactly what you get to witness in Chaitanya Tamhane's exceptional directorial debut in Marathi Cinema having an interesting cast ensemble and an explosive subject. Based on a completely unbelievable case filed by the State against an old age artist, admittedly the film takes its own times to influence the viewers with a slow paced story progression, resembling the way court cases keep crawling in India till years or even decades. But remaining within this off-beat framework, COURT also makes you feel many painful blows one after another while watching the case proceedings in a strange state of amazement. And further paints a hugely upsetting picture of our present Police and Judicial system forcing you to wonder that how come this brutally honest film was awarded a National recognition by the Government of India itself…..instead of getting banned.
Now being a regional project having a limited release in only a few selected theatres in major metro cities, it’s an acceptable truth that not many would be willing to make an effort to go and watch this outstanding Marathi film while its still being played in the theaters (with English subtitles). Hence to make your realize the mistake you would be committing by missing it on the bigger screen, here are its major exceptional features that might influence you to change your mind and watch it at the earliest in the coming days.
1. You must have seen many films revolving around a false case being filed by the Police officials against an innocent person. But can you believe the height of absurdity when an investigating officer files a case against a 65 years old revolutionary social activist/artist/writer/singer, with a charge that one of his songs talking about suicide, provoked a poor sewage worker to kill himself by getting drowned in the gutter full of hazardous gases.
2. The case not only gets duly filed by presenting more than one witnesses, but it also gets extensively discussed within the court with the lady lawyer reading out many long pages full of false accusations ranging from influencing young minds to terrorism and even making explosives, adding a fine touch of black humour that instantly makes you laugh at the absurdity being practiced within the court itself.
3. The sequences bravely expose the flaws in our police and judiciary system when the police officer has no clues about a letter and existence of one crucial witness but still tries to defend his irresponsible actions so casually. Besides one feels disgustingly surprised when the honourable judge refuses to hear the next case as the lady coming forward is wearing a sleeveless dress that is considered to be disrespectful attire in a court room.
4. Through its various references of the weird case and personal lives of both the lawyers fighting it spiritedly, COURT also mocks at the widely prevalent class divide in our society and issues such as freedom of expression, fake arrests and exploitation of laws by the lawyers themselves ignoring the innocent lives and families being affected severely.
5. The language is a mix of Marathi, English, Hindi and Gujarati too, exactly like you find in the region of Mumbai .
Reading the above features, you can easily guess that COURT is not a film for the viewers only interested in their 2-3 hours of carefree weekend entertainment. It’s a rare thought provoking treat coming from our Regional Indian Cinema more interested in presenting its case in front of the thinking viewers. And if you are among those passionate movie-freaks interested in catching all the partially visible meaningful references added in the backdrop then just go for it at the earliest and don’t miss many small but important real life insertions in its brilliant onscreen execution such as:
A. The way the lawyer’s parents treat a stranger visiting their house, who happens to be their son’s client and how the scene eventually turns into a comic one with the reference of lawyer’s marriage.
B. The strange, unconcerned kind of attitude in the answers given by the dead worker’s widow in the court, who later refuses to take any money as help but asks for some work from the lawyer dropping her home.
C. The particular shot of a printing press, where the police officer arrives to arrest the artist checking his new book being printed, but the press worker sitting just a few feet away continues with his work of compiling a magazine pages showing no concern at all.
D. Just study the way, most of the film has been shot with all still frames with the camera placed in a single position making it more real as if one is sitting right there in the theater witnessing the court’s proceedings.
E. And then, many shots continuing to a much longer duration than required with nothing happening on the screen, results in the viewer feeling more involved with the characters and their helpless plight.
In the performances, all inspiring actors (non-professionals mostly) provide a big support to the film led by Vivek Gomber as the defence attorney (also the film's producer), Geetanjali Kulkarni as the public prosecutor, Vira Sathidar as the accused artist/social activist and Pradeep Joshi as the judge. But the choice of other non-actors appearing in very short roles throughout the film could have been better.
Anyhow coming to the most important merit of this well-crafted work focusing on the position of a judge calmly listening to a clearly made-up case by the police, COURT puts forward few extremely significant questions that have never been asked before in the history of Indian Cinema about our Judicial system. And they go as:
Why our judicial system still takes into account the laws enforced way back in the 19th & 20th century before independence when Indians were arguably treated as slaves?
What about the Court’s valuable time wasted on many petty theft cases like the one featured in the film about a lost imported watch allegedly stolen by the neighbour?
What about the time spent on the cases, even the judge clearly knows have been fabricated by the police on some randomly caught person to save their own reputation?
Decency is certainly what needs to be followed while being in a courtroom, but can a judge really refuse to hear a case due to a sleeveless dress worn by the lady coming forward?
Should a particular academic qualification & experience in the field be the only requirement for a person sitting on the honorable position of a judge (deciding upon the lives of hundreds of people) with no consideration of his other personal biases or religious, spiritual and political interests that might influence his decision?
Can the honorable court also go on long summer vacations putting lives of many on hold for a month or so which might find a few accused even dying without seeing the justice being served?
What about the decision in cases dealing with superstition and such questionable practices in our society, if the judge listening to the arguments, himself believes in them personally? (COURT shows the judge to be highly influenced from numerology and use of gem stones recommending them to one of his close friend/relative too as a solution.)
The film ends with the final 10 minutes revolving around the judge alone and the stress he feels, leaving the viewers with many uncomfortable and horrifying questions about the court-procedures running in their minds. And perhaps the climax (showing him enjoying a picnic with his family, slapping one of the kids for disturbing his sleep), also wishes to present a possible conclusion that after all even a judge is a human too who does have his own personal life, choices and limitations.
In fact that’s exactly what makes COURT a highly recommended movie for all thinking minds. So whatever language or region you belong to, shed all your reservations of watching a regional movie with English subtitles and do yourself a favour witnessing COURT in the theatre at the earliest.
Because knowing the business of entertainment in our country, the film is certainly not going to be there waiting for its audiences in the coming weeks. But it’s indeed yet another important benchmark set by the Marathi film-makers in our rich Indian cinema undoubtedly.
Rating : It right away goes into the MOVIES TO SEE BEFORE YOU DIE list at BTC.
(Note: Just take a look at the film’s brilliantly designed poster having a courtroom with few mainholes and the accused coming out of one with mike placed in front of him depicting the film’s main theme.)