I couldn’t catch Court in the theaters, for the two weeks or so that it managed to be around, despite all the acclaim abroad, and all the good reviews. When I finally did manage to watch it, it wasn’t a surprise that it didn’t last longer than it did. That’s obviously not a comment on the film, but rather on the viewers. I don’t think I even need to explain it, especially for those who know my views on movies.
It’s not an easy movie to review. Because Court is not many things one is used to expect from the medium of film, especially an Indian film. The film has a very simple storyline. It’s about an old lok shahir (people’s poet/singer, literally), who is picked up on frivolous excuses, and is effectively being silenced by misuse of the powerful machinery of the state — and its lethargy. The particular case at the center of the film is a case involving an alleged abetting of suicide of a sewage cleaner.
Narayan Kamble, the accused, played with gusto by Vira Satidhar, is alleged to have performed a song next to where the diseased sewage cleaner lived, with lyrics that provoked all sewage cleaners to kill themselves, in an act of protest. The case drags on, at a snail’s pace, with witnesses not turning up, trails pushed to future dates.
It’s then that Court really starts to take a grip, when it starts peaking at the lives of those involved in the case — the lawyers, the judge — and in the process it exposes the central irony:
Vinay Vora, the defense lawyer, (played perfectly by Vivek Gomber, who is also the producer of the movie) comes from a rich Gujarati family (his father tells his friend, in an offhand, yet boastful manner, this whole building is owned by us), plays bepop in his car, socializes with other rich and privileged in exclusive places where world music is played live. He is representing a rebel poet, a man of the masses, and presumably against all the decadence of the system that makes it possible for Vinay to have his privileged lifestyle. While, the prosecutor, Nutan — not even sure this name is used in the movie — played quite competently, by Geetanjali Kulkarni, comes from a typical middle class background, is representing the system — the same system which is keeping her in shackles. Her life is typical urban middle class working woman’s life: working, traveling in local trains, going back home to cook for her husband and kids whom she also has to serve the dinner (while they watch TV, and won’t move an inch to help her in any way whatsoever). She is the victim of the system she is defending, in the hope of an unlikely promotion. And she is so entranced in the system, that she doesn’t realize the contradictions in her positions on issues (assuming she has a consciously held positions).
A scene in particular got me almost angry, where Vinay Vora is shown picking up wines and expensive cheeses in a gourmet shop (while Chopin’s Waltz in E flat major plays in the background), the scene is close to two minutes long (I counted), with just him shopping alone in the store. Where is the editor, I wanted to shout. And yet, as the time passed, I realized that this wasn’t an oversight. This was intentional, just as the agonizingly slowly vanishing shot of the emptying courtroom as it’s supposed to close for the summer vacation (70 seconds long, with last 20 odd seconds of blank screen after the lights are off in the courtroom). The slow pace is intentional, nay, essential to the narrative. For the story enfolds outside of the courtroom, outside of the main narrative. And it is no story at all, it is what the story does to you, what it makes you see, even what it makes you see makes you think.
But there is a story that unfolds in the courtroom too. This, mind you, is not a glamorized courtroom drama one is used to watching on screen — be it Bollywood or Hollywood, films/TV. What is there, instead, is everyday reality of courts. An almost unconcern with what is being debated, decided. It’s a matter of fact portrayal of the banality of the faceless power that could make or destroy lives. It tires you down. It frustrates you. It makes you despondent. It enrages you. And you’re not even the one whose life is in the balance.
Court is a kind of movie that every Indian should see, because it is an antidote to all the glossy, dreamy kitsch that is Bollywood’s staple, because it is a microcosm of India that we don’t want to be reminded of, especially we the privileged. And yet Court is a movie that barely lasted two weeks in theaters. Even that was a miracle. That says a lot about us, not the movie. Our privileged, protected lives, apparently are so full of stress that all we want from movies is a release, a cheap climax. Anything that makes us think, at the end of our labored days, deserves to die an unglamorous death.
That Court has to die to make space for Bajrang Bhaijans, is the tragedy. Ironically though, it’s what Court prepares you for, in the 115 odd minutes it takes from you. Especially, because the judge in the movie is us, as the last few minutes of the movie reveal. Those who have seen the movie will know what I mean by that.
Direction: 5/5 (Kudos to Chaitanya Tamhane !!!)