The court is in session

Chaitanya Tamhane mirrors the chaos of the legal system in court

  • Published 17.04.15
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A moment from Court

Mumbai-based filmmaker Chaitanya Tamhane’s National Award-winning film Court casts an unflinching eye on the flaws of the Indian judicial system. The premise? A radical Dalit poet and musician Narayan Kamble is accused of performing an incendiary song that pushes a sewer cleaner to commit suicide. The film premiered last year at the Venice Film Festival where it picked up two awards, including the Lion of the Future award for the best first feature. Till date, the film has won 19 awards around the world. On the sidelines of a preview screening of Court in Mumbai’s Juhu, t2 sat down with the 28-year-old to talk about his effort that many are calling the best Indian film of 2015.

Congratulations on the National Award (for best feature film)
Thank you. I still can’t believe this has happened. I feel like we’ve hit the lottery. With the film releasing on April 17, this award couldn’t have been timed better. I was supposed to be leaving for the US for our premiere there on the day that the National Awards were announced. I had planned on leaving office early so I could pack for the trip. Around lunch time, we heard that the awards might be announced and that we had probably won. I thought it was a prank, but by the afternoon there were vans from TV stations outside our office! (Laughs) And all my plans of leaving office early went out of the window.

Court has won at film festivals across the world. Is there any particular win that stands out for you?
It has to be Venice. It was a very big surprise for us. Just the fact that we had got selected in the main categories was a big honour for us. We were in the same category as many great filmmakers. And then, life completely changed for us and the film when we won not one, but two awards. Also, the win at MAMI (Mumbai Film Festival) was special. It’s a festival I have been attending for six-seven years now, so to win there was great. 

Where did the idea of Court come from?
Basically, I was fascinated by the setting of a lower court in Mumbai. Things are chaotic in courts, it’s not at all like how you have seen in films. I love doing research, so I started spending time in courts and interviewing people there to understand how the system works. Over a period of time, I had all the characters and the nuances that you see in the film, but I didn’t have the case. I was also interested in protest music and somehow the two came together and I had the final piece of the puzzle. 

Venice (Film Festival) was a very big surprise for us. Life completely changed for us and the film when we won not one, but two awards

The film is in Marathi, English, Gujarati and Hindi. Does being multilingual help?
It wasn’t a conscious choice. I wrote the film in the language the characters would speak. Court is set in Mumbai where people speak all four languages, so it was natural to keep that in the film. I didn’t even consider making it an English film because it would have sounded unnatural. 

Every review has talked about how realistic the film looks. How did you achieve that?
The credit goes to the team. Casting the actors and location recce took over a year. As photography is not allowed in our courts, the design team would spend time sketching scenes. We created a database of colours, props and faces that made it easy for us to recreate a court scene as close to reality as possible. Our pre-production reference also included documentaries like Jai Bhim Comrade (a 2011 documentary directed by Anand Patwardhan), talking to activist and political groups and reading books about the law… that talked about the day-to-day happenings instead of actual laws. 

As far as locations are concerned, the film’s cinematographer Mrinal Desai, who has shot many documentaries and films (including Slumdog Millionaire where he was the second unit cinematographer) in Mumbai. He knew all the locations that most people shoot in the city and so we avoided all of them. The locations you see in Court are very culture specific. 

Do you know what you are making next? Do you see yourself ever making a mainstream Hindi film?
I am working on a feature film and also a sitcom for the web. As for your second question, given the definition of mainstream, I really doubt it. 

Karishma Upadhyay
Why will you watch Court? 
Tell t2@abp.in

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