Marathi film ‘Court’ nominated for Oscars 2015 is what dominated the news about the film industry less than 10 days back.
A pleasant surprise, this regional movie took precedence over blockbusters like Bhaijaan Bajrangi, Bahubali and PK despite the general trend of not looking beyond Bollywood movies for nomination to the Oscars. This bears out two facts – one that, at last talent besides Hindi cinema is being recognized and given its due of an international award nomination and secondly a 15 member jury almost unanimously has been convinced of its merit and gone ahead with its nomination despite external pressures that could have seen any of the blockbusters in its place.
‘Court’ the movie
The movie starts with a folk song by the main protagonist folk singer and activist Narayan Kamble (Vira Sathidar), which has a message. Jaan, Jaan, Jaan…dushmanala jaan re… Kathin aala kaad… Maati s phute naal... that translated from the Marathi means (Know your enemy… these are the tough times …we’re uprooted from our soil….). He sings this song in a slum in Mumbai and two days later we have the death of a sewage worker from choking in it. The folk singer and activist is arrested on the charge that the sewage worker had been incited by the song sufficiently to become reckless enough to go down without protection into the sewer, amounting to suicide by abetment. The courtroom trial thus begins and takes the viewers through a drama that showcases the ridiculousness of the charge, the failures of an outdated legal system that fails to deliver justice, the extremely pathetic living conditions of the downtrodden and other relevant aspects about social ills, that are acknowledged as evil but nothing much is being done about them even today.
What makes the movie ‘Court’ special?
- A simple plot about a trial that is enacted out in a small courtroom where the charge against the accused borders on the ridiculous. The case is fought out like any other, but in the process throws up certain home truths about the deficiencies in the existing legal system, the helplessness of well-meaning individuals caught up in the case, the misery of the social have-nots, the contradictions in society that lead to such situations etc.
- ‘Court’ deals with present-day society and points out the ills in its system through a well-woven narration enacted out in the form of a courtroom drama. Powerful acting is by a well-chosen cast of dedicated actors, inspiring dialogues are what do not merely support the theme but also get the gut of the engrossed viewer to make him to realize what is unfolding before him.
Certain eye-openers about ‘Court’
- Court is the third Marathi movie since Sandeep Sawant’s Shwaas in 2004, and Paresh Mokashi’s Harishchandrachi Factory in 2009 to be selected as India’s entry to the Academy Awards. But the competition this time has been against 40 other movies screened and viewed by a 15 member jury, that included blockbusters like PK, Masaan, Mary Kom, Haider, Kaaka Muttai, Bahubali, Bajarangi Bhaijaan. ‘Court’ got an unanimous decision for being the nomination from the jury.
- The cast includes fresh talent of Marathi cinema like Vira Sathidar as Narayan Kamble, Vivek Gomber as Vinay Vora, Geetanjali Kulkarni as public prosecutor Nutan, and Pradeep Joshi as the Judge. Produced by Vivek Gomber, and written and directed by debutant director Chaitanya Tamhane, the film cast was chosen from auditions of more than 1800 aspirants. The cast includes non-professional actors, including bank employees, government employees, and teachers, who are facing the camera the first time. The movie is just about 2 hours long and a multilingual production in Hindi, Gujarati, English and Marathi.
- The budget is literally shoestring at Rs.3.5 crores compared to some of the 100 crore plus blockbusters that were also screened. Yet the jury was impressed by the theme, the power packed courtroom scenes and meaningful dialogues that were so very relevant to current day society that the decision by the jury led by stage personality and famous film actor Amol Palekar had no hesitation in picking ‘Court’ unanimously as the right choice for the 88th Academy Awards (Oscars) in February 2016.
- Chaitanya Tamhane’s film, which opened to rave reviews on April 17, had already picked up several prizes in India and abroad. ‘Court’ won as the best feature film at the 62nd National awards announced in March. Thereafter it won as many as 17 international awards. At the Mosiac International South Asian Film Festival, it was declared the winner for being the best fiction feature film and for best cinematography. In July, ‘Court’ was released in Chicago. It won the best film award at the Indian film festival, Stuttgart.
- The film also won two coveted awards – the Horizons award for Best Film which carries a 100,000 $ cash prize and the Lion of the Future award for a Debut Film – at the Venice International Film festival in 2014 among others. It was picked up by New York-based Zeitgeist Films, known for sensing the next big film-making talent in the world, for distribution in the US.
The inspiration behind ‘Court’
In 2011 when Tamhane had done his rounds at different film festivals for his debut shirt film Six Strands, the brainwave struck him about how a courtroom drama in an Indian setting could be effectively presented in the backdrop of prevailing society and the ills within. His friend Vivek Gomber insisted that he write the script immediately. Research on courtroom cases, interviewing people about their experiences in legal battles, their faith or lack of it in the system etc. After about a year of this, the idea took shape in the form of script research, auditioning the cast, choosing location etc. When the motley crowd of fresh faces from different backgrounds satisfied him, Tamhane started the actual shooting for the movie. The rest, as you know, is history. It only remains to be seen how it will fare at the Oscars now.
Films like ‘Court’ are unusual and a good jury would definitely sense its potential, irrespective of its commercial success. For commercial success is not all, it is the artistic or powerful presentation of the off-beat theme that has a social message attached to it that truly gives the sense of the unusual, a fresh perspective to the routine, the emotion from having lived with the characters in their cinematic journey. For in that short period it would yet leave a real-life impact on the psyche for the rest of our lives.