Watch & Learn: Court

What is Court?

Court is a 2014 independent film, written and directed by Chaitanya Tamhane. Best described as a Marathi-English film, Court is about a spirited elderly folk singer and activist who finds himself unexpectedly accused of a crime. The movie follows four principal characters to tell the story of court proceedings in India, with particular emphasis on the nitty-gritties of procedure, legal formalities, and how societal perception can have a profound effect on them. 

What stood out to us?

Over the years, although Indian cinema has often made the legal fraternity a subject of its films, none so far have been as honest, frugal and uncomplicated in their approach towards the subject of society, lawyers and the judicial system. To begin with, Court has a rather interesting character as the accused in a trial — elderly activist and folk singer, Narayan Kamble, who finds himself unexpectedly accused of a crime, in relation to one of his performances. This is where things get very interesting, because subtle as they are, the film makes continual references to the relationship between artists, protest music and the law.

Social, economic and political issues aside, Court does a wonderful job of portraying the humanness of lawyers and members of the judiciary. Traditional media often depicts lawyers either as virtuous, diligent seekers of justice or as pompous, corrupt and manipulative. Court breaks away from this binary vision of the judiciary, allowing us to embrace the truth that those who seek to provide us justice and those entrusted with maintaining the sanctity of our laws are also human, and equally susceptible to sympathy, pity, monotony, superstition and their own vices.

The film has also won (and been nominated for) multiple awards. In 2015, the film won the Best Feature Film award at the 62nd National Film Awards, and it was also India’s official submission for the 88th Annual Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Court is also lauded for its simplicity in storytelling.

Why watch it?

Court is a treat to watch. It is a relatively honest treatment of subjects that are crucial in our increasingly polarized world. This film has no extra fluff; there is no star-studded cast. The actors have all done a brilliant job, in particular, Geetanjali Kulkarni as public prosecutor Nutan. The production is realistic to the level of detail of the peeling paint on the session courtroom walls. There are no musical interludes, save for the short but effective songs of protest sung by Kamble’s character.

Not to be taken lightly or cynically, Court paints a clear picture for artists and lawyers alike, adding its voice to the urgent conversation about artistic expression, censorship, human rights and free speech.

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