Silence! The court is in session

Arthouse cinema

Silence! The court is in session

“Your case will not be heard today,” pronounces the judge of a session’s court.
“Why Sir?” asks the defendant.
“You have come to the court wearing a sleeveless top. That’s against the rules!” replies the judge.

And the audience in the cinema hall watching the much-feted Marathi film Court erupts out laughing. It was such an innocuous comment by the character playing the judge that instead of getting offended or annoyed, viewers’ reaction in unison was, “Aree aise hi hota hai! (Aree, this is what happens).”

Precisely, it’s this tongue-in-cheek and a realistic look at the routine proceedings in the country’s lower courts that has made the debutant film director Chaitanya Tamhane gather awards by the dozen. At the last count, his film had bagged 22 awards at both international and national levels. Court even won this year’s National Film Award in the best feature film category.

“I have become the face of the film. Actually, the effort to make the film successful goes to everyone associated with the film. Many of the actors faced the camera for the first time in their lives. It was such a group effort that all of us put our might, thoughts and talent behind it,” says 28-year-old Mumbai-based Tamhane.

Hailing from a middle-class Maharashtrian family where more emphasis is placed on education and white collar jobs, Chaitanya’s choice of opting for films was met with average enthusiasm. Acting in school and college dramas was accepted, but making a career choice was a different matter altogether. Though his parents never discouraged him, they were skeptical of their son’s choice of profession.

So, it came as a huge relief when Chaitanya’s friend Vivek Gomber, one of the actors in his debut directed play, Grey Elephants in Denmark, agreed to finance Court. Speaking English with an American drawl, as he did his schooling from Singapore and studied drama from Boston’s Emerson College, Vivek too is fond of acting, theatre and the world of cinema.

When Chaitanya, by then maker of a short film Six Strands, sounded him of his idea for the film, Vivek told him he would not only finance the film, but will pay him a monthly salary of Rs 15,000 to research, develop the story and be ready with the script. As Vivek said in an interview, “I had full faith in his intelligence and maturity of handling the subject.” He had so much faith in the young Chaitanya who was only 24 then that he even auditioned to play the pivotal role of a wealthy defense lawyer Vinay Vora in the film.

The idea for the story germinated slowly. Chaitanya says, “I used to watch American TV serials where court room dramas are depicted and always wondered if all lawyers were so smart and delivered such impeccable speeches. This made me visit a lower court. I was highly intrigued by the dull routine, mundane proceedings and ordinary people for whom a trial is just routine and not some melodrama as it’s always shown in our cinemas.”

He had a faint image of what he wanted to show and then more than a year’s research by attending courts, taking down notes, reading books, newspaper articles, talking to social activists and watching documentaries including Jai Bhim Comrade, got him the story that he wanted to tell the world. Never intending to give any message from his film, his aim was to express his thoughts on celluloid.

The story of Court is about the trial of an ageing folk singer in a lower court in Mumbai. The radical Dalit poet and singer Narayan Kamble is arrested for the fatal suicide bid by a sewer worker. The prosecution lawyer, acted superbly by Marathi theatre actor Geetanjali Kulkarni (wife of another great actor Atul Kulkarni), contending says that it was Kamble’s poetry which pushed the worker to the brink. The film neither shows the sewer worker nor his work environs. However, the depiction and narration are so realistic that one can smell the stench of the dirty sewers!

Chaitanya emphasises that his film isn’t inspired by any single incident though it’s based on several true incidents, every character in his film are fictional. But, watching the film, one really gets this feeling of watching an ordinary day in a lawyer’s life. It so cleverly depicts the loopholes in our legal system that it has touched a chord among filmgoers — for, legal system worldwide has its drawbacks which Court essays well.

The multi-lingual film’s narration is as real as possible with characters including judge, lawyers, court room officials, cops and others mouthing words in Marathi, Gujarati, Hindi and English. “As most of the film happens in a court, all these languages blend together in the conversations. No Mumbaikar speaks only Marathi without including words from other languages too, which is also the case in the other cities. We integrated the natural flow of language of an ordinary Mumbaikar, and hence a multi-lingual film,” explains Tamhane. 

Having started planning his next, Chaitanya hopes not to disappoint his audience, and especially his family. “They were super surprised by the film, loved every bit of it, are very proud of it, but their only advice now is — ‘make a happy film next!’ ”

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