COURT, drama, not rated, in Marathi, Hindi, English, and Gujarati with subtitles, The Screen, 3.5 chiles
Court is a realistic portrayal of how long it can take to resolve a court case in India. Time drains away like water through a sieve. And that’s not all. At a seminar, the film’s protagonist, attorney Vinay Vora (Vivek Gomber), speaks about defendants who get arrested on certain charges, but when the cases prove to be hollow, they are rearrested on different charges. The film illustrates one such situation. A sixty-five-year-old folk singer, Narayan Kamble (Vira Sathidar), is arrested for allegedly inciting the suicide of a sewage worker. The hearings drag on over several months, and the slow pace of the film’s editing underlines how Narayan’s case moves like molasses through the court system.
Narayan’s imprisonment without bail and his deteriorating health seem to bother no one but his attorney. After months, the judge pronounces that the case is weak and finally agrees to bail, but he sets the amount at an unaffordable 100,000 rupees in cash. Vinay pays the bail so that his client’s health will not worsen further. Gomber plays the large-hearted attorney with understated brilliance.
Narayan is let out on bail, only to be arrested shortly after on charges of sedition. The public prosecutor would be happy to put Narayan away in jail for 20 years, but she too is humanized — at home, she is an ordinary housewife who serves dinner to her husband and cajoles her children to eat while the food is warm. Director Chaitanya Tamhane doesn’t point fingers but lets us observe the defense, the prosecution, and the judge and draw our own conclusions. Occasionally, he takes this aesthetic too far. Especially in the street scenes, the film has one too many wide shots, which distance us from the action.
The film ends with a sequence that follows the judge on his summer vacation. We see that the upper middle class remains fixed on its usual preoccupations — marrying off children or pondering which professions yield the grandest salaries. Meanwhile, sewage workers labor under unimaginable conditions without any safety equipment. The deceased sewage worker had to rely on whether or not a bug came out of a manhole to ascertain if there was enough oxygen to go inside.
Usha Bane plays Sharmila Pawar, the sewage worker’s wife, in a standout performance. After her court appearance, Vinay drives Sharmila back to her slum, and she tells him she’s looking for work. He offers to arrange some money for her, but she refuses. She doesn’t want his money; she wants a job. It is well known that the system doesn’t work as well for people like Sharmila and Narayan as it does for the upper middle class, but seeing this played out in Court is a fresh revelation. If you can get used to the pace, this is a surprisingly easy film to watch for the complex insights it offers. — Priyanka Kumar
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