Sunday, September 27, 2015

Court (2015)

Director: Chaitanya Tamhane
Writer:    Chaitanya Tamhane
Cast:       Vivek Gomber, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Pradeep Joshi
Language: Marathi

The apparent 'suicide' of a sewage cleaner leads to the arrest of a Dalit activist/folk singer. The 65-year-old is held on grounds of abetting the suicide through his lyrics, which asked Dalits to commit suicide since that will give them more dignity than living through India's regressive social system under which their status haven't improved much since independence. The film follows the personal lives of the Judge, the public prosecutor and the activist's lawyer as the case meanders its way through India's notoriously slow legal system courtesy of numerous excuses and delays.  

Film got almost universal praise for its accurate portrayal of court system in India and the makers also marketed it as a realistic court-room drama. While it is true in that sense, this kind of marketing disguises the political nature of the film and that is a stroke of genius as it didn't generate the level of controversies it could have if they had marketed it as a political film. It has been selected as India's nomination for Academy Awards in the foreign film category for next year and it is mind-boggling that such a choice could have happened under the watch of a right wing conservative BJP government. I do remember reading news about some no-mark getting appointed recently related to this selection process and maybe the guy was so bad that he didn't even understand the true nature of this film. It is done in such a non-judgmental fashion that maybe the right-wingers thought that film was actually justifying their position on issues like 'Freedom of Speech', Dalit rights etc.

I was reminded of works of Ruben Ostlund and Michael Haneke while watching this film. The former for its extremely dark humor and the latter for its potential to plunge you into a state of depression. The male advocate, who is appearing for the activist, is a progressive guy with 'so-called' westernized lifestyle. He is not comfortable with Marathi, which suggests that he is an immigrant in Mumbai, a controversial thing in right wing politics of Maharashtra. The public prosecutor is a woman whose background is extremely conservative and the director chooses to show her family attending a theater performance containing xenophobic material. The judge is your traditional old patriarch guy with a penchant for moral policing and dishing out advises for no good reason. The film culminates with him slapping a kid angrily for disturbing in his sleep. It is essentially the right wing slapping the progressive nuisance in a society where 'collective' rights are given much more importance than 'individual' rights and things like 'Freedom of Speech and Expression' don't have much of a place in it and most people don't understand what it entails. Both the public prosecutor and the judge are put in the collective context of their family and relatives while the defendant's advocate is being shown in isolation with him exhibiting some exasperation when dealing with his parents. I am not in a position to judge whether any of this was done with subtlety since my politics will naturally prompt me to perceive it according to my own biases and maybe a non-political person is in a better position to comment on that.

It is a must watch film and should be a landmark one for Indian cinema. It went to many international film festivals that actually matters (Venice, Vienna etc) and won numerous awards. Since it doesn't really explain the caste issues that it is dealing with, I don't know if a foreign viewer would be able to appreciate in its entirety. I don't really care much about the Oscars but a shortlisting in the Foreign Film Category will surely help the film get a wider exposure, not only in foreign countries but also in India. It did get released here in Kochi with subtitles and I really regret not being able to catch it at the cinemas.

Rating: 5/5