By: Mark Barber
Chaitanya Tamhane’s courtroom drama, aptly titled Court, has received broad international acclaim for its compelling minimalism and intelligent use of realism, but also deserves praise for its insightful analysis on the lingering effects of colonialism on India’s legal system.
Understated and distanced, Court eschews the familiar Hollywood-style intensity of John Grisham adaptations. A procedural take on the Indian legal systems and the personal lives related to one case, Court examines its postcolonial identity and its rigid, Western-style judicial system, complete with archaic laws from the time of its English occupation.
Court is centered on the case of musician-poet Narayan Kamble (Vira Sathidar). After performing in a village, Kamble is accused of inciting the workers there to commit suicide through his performance. When a worker is found dead by apparent suicide, Kamble is put on trial. As the days go on, the lives of those involved in the case, including his attorney Vinay (Vivek Gomber) and public prosecutor Nutan (Geetanjali Kulkarni) are revealed.
Keeping a cold distance away from his subjects, Court operates under the pretense of objective truth. Court’s reliance on realism would have no doubt been praised by early French film theorist and critic André Bazin, who championed such realist techniques such as the many long takes that make up Court’s two-hour running time.
While the seeming objectivity of Court’s realist approach might make it difficult to penetrate, the postcolonial undertones become apparent in the dialectic between the two attorneys, Vinay and Nutan. Exchanging barbs with each other in both Hindi and English (the latter is a lingering concomitant of colonial times), both are engaged over the legitimacy of a colonial, hundred-year-old law.
While Tamhane’s austere approach to the courtroom scenes may seem banal at first, they are enlivened by their social complexity and relevancy. Gomber and Kulkarni also enrich the film with their restrained yet combative performances.
Exposing the moral flaws in India’s westernized legal system, Court is a ponderous yet enthralling drama.
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