Not exactly a courtroom drama in the vein of John Grisham, this debut from Chaitanya Tamhane is a low key affair more concerned with the laborious ins and outs of a case in a typical Indian court.
geing folk singer Narayan Kamble (Sathidar) has been known to the police for some time with his impromptu concerts and incendiary lyrics about the working man rising up. This time he’s arrested for encouraging sewage workers to commit suicide, which one gig attendee went and did, allegedly deliberately inhaling toxic fumes at work. His lawyer Vinay Vora (Gomber, who also produces), a Human Rights activist whose case is built on police harassment, while his opposing number, public prosecutor Nutan (Kulkarni), is hell-bent on leading the suspect witnesses that crop up. Judge Sadavarte (Joshi) is more intent on upholding the rules and regulations of the court – one case is dismissed before it even begins because the defendant is wearing a sleeveless top.
espite the case being a small one it is drawn out over months with Tamhane delighting in the frustration; if there’s any snag or disruption, the judge opts to reconvene at a later date (a running gag throughout) and recaps to the notary his take on the arguments of both the prosecution and the defence, further delaying proceedings. Tamhane’s camera keeps its distance, observing instead of getting involved. In opting for long takes and wide shots with little or no close ups, eye is encouraged to travel, to take in the streets and rooms and what’s happening at the fringes of the frame (one woman is asleep; the notary texts someone).
he repetition might be deliberate to highlight the drawn out nature of due process but this doesn’t lend the story momentum when it’s needed most, resulting in a flabby second half; the narrative is cyclical and doesn’t achieve a whole lot. When the day-to-day machinations of the court doesn’t offer anything new, Tamhane branches out to explore the lives of those involved outside the courtroom: Vora’s dynamic with his argumentative parents is played for laughs yet rings true and Nutan juggles her job with her ‘duties’ as a wife, coming home to cook dinner for her two children and diabetic husband. Oddly, Kamble remains a bit player.
ven though the stakes are small and repetition is key to making it work, Court remains engaging.