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‘I Was Broke And Depressed’ – Chaitanya Tamhane On His Journey With Award Winning ‘Court’

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By Akhil Kumar for Youth Ki Awaaz:

After rocking the global film festival circuit with 18 prestigious awards, and also bagging the national award for best feature, 28 year old Chaitanya Tamhane’s directorial debut ‘Court‘ is all set for its Indian theatrical release tomorrow (17th April). “Even after the awards, we were struggling to get a theatrical release,” he told me over a phone call recently. The Hollywood Reporter has called himone of the world’s most accomplished and promising film-makers under 30“, and Rajat Kapoor (director of the critically acclaimed film ‘Ankhon Dekhi‘) tweeted this about the film:

It’s not just Rajat Kapoor who has such good things to say about the film, high praise has been pouring in from the who’s who of the Indian film industry. With glowing reviews from not just India, but the international media as well, the film has a massive reputation to live up to. This multilingual courtroom drama revolves around a radical Dalit poet Narayan Kamble’s arrest after being accused of performing a song that pushes a manual scavenger to suicide. The film draws inspiration from real life incidents of state crackdown on dissenting activists; Anand Patwardhan’s ‘Jai Bhim Comrade‘ keeps coming to mind. “I hadn’t seen Jai Bhim when I started scripting the film. I think it was half-way or when I had almost finished scripting – that’s when I saw Jai Bhim Comrade, and it became an invaluable resource for our production designers, for the costume designers, and for us to reference, basically,” he tells me when I ask him if he had seen Anand Patwardhan’s recent documentary. I prod further and ask him if the documentary affected the making of his film, to which he says, “No, not really. The script was done, and I was very clear about the script. So it did not really affect. And they’re also very different perspectives, you know, if you see the film. So no, not really”.

Chaitanya Tamhane
Source: Court Facebook page

The producer placed immense faith in Chaitanya, who was just 24 when he wrote the script. He offered to “pay him Rs 15,000 a month to write a script after the latter told him about an idea he wanted to develop“. Chaitanya talks about it in further detail during our conversation, “I was broke and depressed because I wanted to develop the idea of ‘Court’ into a script, but I didn’t have the money. And Vivek saw me, he met me one day, and he said ‘Why are you so sad?’, and I said I have this idea but I don’t have the money, and there’s a lot of pressure from my family to sustain myself and earn money. And he said, ‘You know what? I love the idea of exploring a subversion of a courtroom drama and I would love to support you. Why don’t you write a script? And I will give you a monthly sustenance fee,” he says, expressing gratitude towards the 36 year old actor-producer Vivek Gomber.

The songs in the film have sharp political commentary and the team has taken special care to maintain the raw feel of folk music as a form of dissent. The music of the film deserves a special mention as it was the director’s fascination with folk music, protest music, and cultural activists, that shaped the character of the protagonist. “I was very fascinated by that whole world of folk music, protest music and cultural activists. Then while researching for ‘Court’ I came across the case of Jiten Marandi who is a culture activist from Jharkand, who was sentenced to death, and then suddenly, you know, the connection was made and I was reminded of these artists. And that’s how I came up with the idea of a protester being the protagonist – Narayan Kamble who is played by Vira Sathidar,” he says.

Chaitanya insisted on bringing in newcomers and unknown faces for the film, and it took 8 months and a series of rigorous auditions to assemble the cast. Even the producer, Vivek Gomber, had to audition for the role that he plays in the film. “He’s a trained actor from  Emerson college in Boston, and he did a very good job of balancing his role as a producer and the actor,” he tells me. When I further enquired if he thought it worked out the way he wanted it to, or would it have been better had he brought in some known faces and experienced actors, he excitedly added, “I feel we got really really lucky with the non-professional actors and the fresh faces. Some of them have delivered much better than we had ever expected, and there is some magic that has happened in the film which was beyond our capability of planning.”

The film has been appreciated for its realism and authenticity. Chaitanya has a keen eye for detail, and he has made sure that the film doesn’t pander to the popular idea of a courthouse high on melodrama that mainstream movies have drilled into our conscience. Despite all the praise showered on the film, some people have a few bones to pick. The research for the film has been put to question by some, due to some technical inaccuracies in some scenes. When I questioned Chaitanya about the scene in the film where the public prosecutor cross-examines the accused at the start of the trial (which is not allowed in real trials), he says that it was a deliberate decision and he has taken creative liberty to do so to avoid hampering the narrative of the film. “There are many lawyers who have said that some of the things are factually incorrect, some are not in chronological order; all agreed. I accept all accusations. There are 2 or 3 things. Of course I have taken some dramatic liberties, some creative liberties, for the sake of the narrative. Secondly, I am more interested in the essence of the things I experience rather than the facts or the kind of technical details that they are talking about,” he added.

This young director has made the entire film industry sit up and take notice, while also garnering appreciation from activists and fellow filmmakers. It is no easy feat for an indie film, especially one with no big names attached to it, to make it to the theaters. Only time will tell if the film will be a success at the Box Office, but it is definitely off to a good start by winning over so many hearts.

If you want to catch the movie, here‘s the Pan-India theater listing and show timings for the film. Also, you can watch the trailer of the film below. 

To know more about what I think of this film, follow me on Twitter at @Akhil1490

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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