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Anshul is a Political Science and Law graduate from the University of Delhi. He is interested in political, legal and policy developments and frequently writes on related themes. You can contact him on anshulkumarpandey [at] gmail [dot] com.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Movie Review: Court

India's judicial system is reeling to provide justice to the billion plus population of the nation with its outdated machinery and flawed conceptions of justice. This is a reality that everyone in India knows and it is also the reason why people normally shy away from court proceedings and the police. Yet, director Chaitanya Tamhane's magnificent debut not only translates this sorry reality to the screen, but it does so while exposing the hidden class narratives and an almost mechanical conception of justice, as opposed to a humane one, adopted by the legal fraternity of the country today.

Narayan Kamble (Vira Satidhar) is arrested for abetting the suicide of a sewage cleaner by inciting him to commit such an act through his folk songs. Advocate Vinay Vora (Vivek Gomber), a young criminal lawyer, appears in proceeding after proceeding where his pleas for a reasonable interpretation of the law are repeatedly thrown out of the window and with it is thrown out the conception of justice. While 110 year old laws and stock witnesses are relied upon to unsuccessfully prove a completely fabricated charge, life outside the court drags on in its monotonous routine. 

The title of the film leads you to believe that it tries to flay the incapacity and incompetency of the country's judicial system. In my view, it not only succeeds in doing that, but it achieves much more by weaving the personal lives of the lawyers and judges involved into the courtroom drama. The prosecution lawyer, a middle-aged woman, is shown bickering to a colleague in the bar library about the unnecessary delay in the trial and suggests that the judge should simply sentence the accused for 20 years. Later, we cut to her home where she dutifully assumes the role of a housewife in what is obviously a patriarchal household. Later, the family goes to watch a play where the protagonist is seen kicking out people from UP and Bihar out of his household and extolling the courage and virtues of the Marathi Manoos. It is a chauvinistic play which tells you about the chauvinistic mentality of all those who have come to see it.

When Mr. Vora, who is a reasonable young man, tries to protest an irrational application of an outdated law, he is targeted by members of an ethnic sect for "hurting their sentiments". Still unperturbed, he is shown securing the bail of the accused at last and also helping the family of the victim. He is a lawyer with a conscience in a conscienceless system. The judge, Mr. Shirodkar, although admired by some lawyers as sharp and efficient, is shown to be a firm believer in numerology. He goes through the procedure in a monotonous way, without any regard for the humane aspect of the law. He is also shown extolling the virtues of an IIM MBA which guarantees a truckload of cash every month upon graduation. The film subtly underscores the point that where the motive is money, justice quietly takes a backseat.

In between all this, lies the accused Narayan Kamble. He is the cynosure of a peeved system which targets him because he dares to exercise his fundamental right of free speech in the remote corners of Maharashtra. He writes radical books and sings radical songs and incites the downtrodden from his own community to take matters in their own hands. He is perhaps the only character in the movie with a better social and political understanding of all despite having the poorest financial standing. An aged man, he is the symbol of the skewed class hierarchy of modern India, who is dragged into the labyrinthine corridors of India's legal system for questioning such an arrangement in the first place. No wonder that as soon as he is released, he is promptly charged with another baseless and more dangerous accusation.

The achievement of this movie is not that it exposes the weakness of our criminal justice system. Its real achievement is its depiction of the opposing social interests of the prosecutor and the prosecuted. Court is perhaps the most brutal Neo-Noir film of our times, just like Do Beegha Zameen was for the post-independence generation. You cannot miss watching this film.