Some movies are meant be watched; other movies are slowly absorbed into consciousness, intravenous drips of reality that seep into our minds. Court, an Indian movie that takes place in Mumbai has a feeling of fly-on-the-wall authenticity that sometimes makes it feel like a documentary.
Writer/director Chaitanya Tamhane’s slowly evolving film focuses on the lives of a variety of people involved in what turns out to be an apparently endless court proceeding.
For 27 years, Robert Denerstein was the film critic at The Rocky Mountain News. Read more of Robert's reviews at Denerstein Unleashed.
Tamhane begins the movie, his first, by introducing us to a 65-year-old folk singer (Vira Sathidar) with a flair for protest, angry expressions against the prevailing order. In a nearly absurd twist, the folksinger is accused of abetting the suicide of a sewer worker with a supposedly incendiary song. The song doesn’t exist, and the case against the folk singer is so flimsy and so obviously motivated by political concerns and caste prejudice that it’s difficult to believe that any judge wouldn’t toss it aside in minutes.
As the case unfolds, the defendant significantly disappears, and we get glimpses into the lives of the defense and prosecuting attorneys (Vivek Gomber and Geetanjali Kulkarni) and, ultimately, the judge (Pradeep Joshi).
To say that Tamhane works in a slow and deliberate manner is to understate the matter. Tamhane holds shots even after characters have left the frame, and he almost never moves his camera. By so doing, he refuses to allow any character to dominate; no one transcends his or her surroundings.
The defense attorney argues with his parents at lunch. The prosecutor talks about shopping on a bus. Although the stakes are high for the defendant, everything in Court is grounded in the quotidian rhythms of daily life. Don’t expect to see a dramatic or melodramatic climax a la Perry Mason; Court drifts through the lives of its characters without italicizing the injustices or the cultural conflicts that Tamhane so assiduously chronicles.
Obviously, a movie such as Court requires patience, but Tamhane rewards that patience by allowing us to drift along with the characters, to feel what it’s like to be part of their environment. By the end, we realize that although we haven’t watched a conventional drama, much has been revealed.
To borrow a phrase from a David Bowie song, Court is moviemaking at the speed of life, providing you still remember how life felt when moving at less than 100 miles an hour.