Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Court (2014) by Chaitanya Tamhane

The film is widely praised for its depiction of the dysfunctional Indian court system, and for its illustration of the plight of gutter workers.

That narrative is straightforward and does not require much critique.

To me, what is more interesting in the film are the interludes between the court scenes.  What is being said in those interludes?  What is the point being made?

The film is actually less of a courtroom drama than a study of various social situations.  The court merely ties together the various characters in those situations.

I consider this to be a rather well-crafted film in which every scene or dialogue serves a purpose.  As in a story by Chekhov, nothing is superfluous.  One could regard the interludes as developing the supporting characters, but it is quite obvious that that is not all.  There is a meaning to the apparent random set pieces.  There is a statement being made in each of them.  And the statement is powerful because it is shown and not talked about.  It is oblique and not direct.

But the risk of such an approach is that such a statement might also therefore be cryptic.  That's where a film critic can add some value.

There are twelve such interludes:

Interlude One: Narayan Kamble traveling from his home to the public venue

Interlude Two: The Police Station hallway

Interlude Three: The lawyer at the "Dissecting Democracy" event, and later, grocery shopping

Interlude Four: The lawyer and his family at the lunch table

Interlude Five: The lawyer and his girlfriend at the club-lounge

(I am omitting the scene when the judge postpones the hearing due to the appearance of the petitioner)

Interlude Six: The train ride of the Public Prosecutor

Interlude Seven: The Public Prosecutor serving dinner to her family

Interlude Eight: The Public Prosecutor and her family's outing

Interlude Nine: The lawyer dining out with his parents and sister

(I am omitting the scene where the lawyer drops the wife of the gutter-worker to her home in his car.  Though the theme of dignity ("don't give me charity, give me work") is pretty straightforward to interpret, the brief episode of the seat-belt is more nuanced.  It is obvious that the woman is unfamiliar with the seat-belt since she has probably never sat in that kind of car before.  But more interestingly, we should remember that the woman has just testified about the lack of safety equipment for her late husband.  The seat-belt is also a kind of safety equipment, in fact one will be penalized for not using it.  But why was there no safety equipment provided to her husband?  Was it merely a lack of funds, or a more fundamental lack of concern, or that her husband is considered more dispensable than someone who can afford a car ride?  The judge never shows outrage or comments on the lack of safety equipment as criminal negligence by the state, since he is merely to rule on whether the man committed suicide or not.)

Interlude Ten: Narayan Kamble again at the public function

Interlude Eleven: Narayan Kamble at the printing press

Interlude Twelve: The judge and his circle of friends/family on his way to the resort, and then at the resort

In my next post, I will provide a subjective interpretation of these twelve interludes.

(to be continued)

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