Exposing India’s labyrinthine judicial system, Chaitanya Tamhane’s debut feature Court brings a slow dread to the impossibility of justice.
Babelby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Court is a searing indictment of the Kafka-esque Indian legal system. It’s an extraordinary feature debut by first-time director Chaitanya Tamhane. He uses the trumped-up prosecution of an elderly folk singer for abetting the alleged suicide of a sewage worker to expose the workings of the labyrinthine court process, moribund since the British Raj, as the case drags on at a snail’s pace with no end in sight. Court scenes are intercut with the contrasting everyday lives of the defence and prosecution lawyers, who are on different sides of the Indian caste and class system. Shot in several different courts, all are chaotic, crowded and disturbingly casual. People wander past, multiple languages are spoken, advocacy is nonexistent and judges’ decisions seem arbitrary. What makes this film so different is the way the director leaves the camera running before and after the particular case we are following, giving a tightly scripted and rehearsed drama the feel of a slice-of-life documentary, and making our defendant seem like just one person lost among many, many others. Shot mainly in midshot and in long takes, this creates a growing sense of dread and turns the audience into an increasingly horrified observer of the impossibility of access to justice.
Court is showing on Oct 12th & 14th at the 58th BFI London Film Festival