Court JDiff review: Human rights are a luxury few in India can afford in this gripping debut feature

Ludicrous court case: Vira Sathidar in Court, directed by Chaitanya Tamhane

Film Title: Court

Director: Chaitanya Tamhane

Starring: Vira Sathidar, Vivek Gomber, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Pradeep Joshi

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 116 min

Thu, Mar 19, 2015, 01:00

   

Just when you imagined the courtroom drama had no place left to go, along comes Chaitanya Tamhane’s fiendishly clever debut feature. Narayan Kamble (Sathidar) is a 65-year-old social activist and singer who is part of a troupe that performs around Mumbai’s less salubrious neighbourhoods. When he is arrested for inciting a sewage worker to kill himself – supposedly after listening to one of Kamble’s songs – defender Vinay Vora (Gomber) takes on the patently ludicrous case. But between corrupt police officials, inherited Victorian laws, a stickler of a judge (Joshi), and dogged public prosecutor Nutan (Geetanjali Kulkarni), the case is not an easy one.

Cinematographer Mrinal Desai maintains an appropriately static gaze and always lingers a beat longer than most cameras would dare, a strategy that proves revelatory in every sense. A superficially freewheeling plot jumps between the complex principal characters: Nutan is a hardworking mum-of-two who takes her family to immigrant-bashing pantomimes; Vinay enjoys imported cheese and jazz between social causes; the seemingly patient judge’s capacity for knee-jerk cruelty is revealed in a small, disturbing final gesture. Slowly, Court coalesces into a powerful chronicle of gaping social inequalities and judicial inadequacies. Human rights soon look like Nutan’s cheeses: a luxury that only the privileged can afford.