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 him “one 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:
my list of 10 best films of the year.. 1. court 2.. 3.. 4.. 5.. forget it!!
— Rajat Kapoor (@mrrajatkapoor) December 21, 2014
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”.
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.