The Theory of Court (Court by Chaitanya Tamhane)

Before I begin writing anything about the film, I would like to clarify my intention of this post. First of all, this is not a film review. I don’t consider myself or anybody for that matter to pass rigid judgements on any art form. I believe I am writing this to engage into a discussion. People argue that the film is overrated. I feel everything is either overrated or underrated. Nothing is rated appropriately. If it was my baby I would’ve preferred an overrated baby rather than an underrated one. It took me a while to sink into the treatment of the film. But once I accepted it, I stopped judging it and my learning process begun.  I want to emphasis on the elements in the film that I liked and the elements that didn’t appeal to my tastes. And more importantly, I feel this subject and this art form requires a debate more than “My Choice” by Deepika Padukone / Homi Adajania.

In November 2014, when I was in the middle of a feast of films at Mumbai Film Festival (MAMI), I came across a counter which was serving Court; it was flooded with hungry cinephiles. After missing 2 screenings and watching the third one from the aisles, my love-hate relationship with the film began.


The film was a massive success at MAMI. It won the Best Feature Film award and the 62nd National Film Awards. And quite poetically, the Grand Prix Aleksandar Sasa Petrovic – Best Film award at Auteur Film Festival. Auteur is the fancy French word for Author. There is a “kind of” famous Auteur theory in Film by film critic François Truffaut. Which in simple terms makes the Director of the film, the author of the film; writing with a “camera-pen”. The film is the reflection of the director’s personal vision. And in case of Court, it truly is as personal and as visionary as it gets.

The film is a courtroom drama about a case whose verdict is pending. That’s how I would summarize the film in one line. The film is about this case. The case over here is not just the plot but also the protagonist. It’s a hybrid. You can imagine the case as the hero of the film surrounded by some important characters. We have the accused, Narayan Kamble; the defence lawyer, Vinay Vora (Vinayak Gombar); the public prosecutor (I think unnamed, played by Geetanjali Kulkarni) and the Judge (Pradeep Joshi). For those seeking more info about the plot of the film, watch the film.

Ever watched Bicycle Thieves or The Apu Trilogy? Yep, the boring ones. These films introduced Neo-Realism to the world. The theme of these films, if we can generalise, is the melancholy of contemporary life. That is the section where Court falls. Except, the director has introduced one additional theme through this film – lethargy. And this theme compliments the subject so well that it in fact enhances the experience. Honestly this is the one word you can use to describe the judiciary system of India. And that’s exactly what we see over here.

If the law of the state is going to permit me, then I would like to abduct Chaitanya Tamhane and his casting team and torture them till they spill all their casting secrets. The casting of the film, is marvellous. It simply enhances the authenticity of the film.


The film begins with Narayan Kamble reading a poem about a Butterfly. You and I, (normal human beings) get scared when a butterfly enters our house. Not because it’s harmful for us, but it’s harmful for that innocent creature. Because it a cage for him with all sorts of dangers. My grandmother told me as a kid that once a butterfly enters a house, it doesn’t get out. That’s the accused for you. The accused, is the innocent one; just doing his job, now trapped in the system. Voila!

Let it be any character, when he/she enters the shot you see him/her entering from one end of the frame and exiting from another. Usually what we do is, we show a person entering → cut to close up → cut to another shot → boom, characters are about to exit the frame. That’s how we usually cut. Not only the characters are shown moving from one end to another in a frame in a single shot which has practically no dialogues but also there is a 4 second gap before the character enters and after the character leaves. There is a shot where the defence lawyer drops off the victim’s wife in a car. You should focus on that shot if you want to understand what I mean. Absolutely no cuts. Full action, just the way it happens. Even though there is no drama. On the other hand, conversations containing important exposition are just incomplete excerpts. I would like someone to help me understand this particular treatment.

Speaking more about the editing, in one scene the defence lawyer speaks about Human Rights and the Mohsin Parvez case at some event. He is disturbed several times. During his speech he is disturbed several times. Once when a guy stops him for placing a fan. I feel it emphasised two things. One was how seriously this matter is being taken by the audience and the organisers and two is that this point will not really make sense in the system. And I feel this is the only scene where we have a sharp cut, just when the Vora is disturbed for the second time.

The courtroom part of the film ends with the verdict pending. But the screenplay continues. Both the sides have made their point.  The judge, at some distinct point in the future will pass the judgement. And he does, when he slaps the verbally challenged kid based on the evidence, rather than empathising with the situation. That sums up our drama part. Roll Credits. (Slowly)

PS. I’d also like to know what happened to the music. (?)


Every web-page that I visited so far describes Court as a critique of Indian Judiciary System. I  think that it is beyond that. It is a critique of our culture. That is why we have a highly educated lawyer, who drives his own car, takes his assistant to a trial, listens and enjoys portuguese songs, lives separately even though his parents own a building helping a man just for the sake of justice against a lower middle class public prosecutor who travels by train, can’t afford a maid, who lives in a one room-kitchen flat, watches old minded Marathi plays. It is the contrast in culture. And we have simple people, doing their job. When you think about it everyone is doing the job honestly. So the theory over here is – in Bicycle Thieves we have the situation becoming the villain making ordinary people steal; over here we have the system and our culture making us form the opinions about right and wrong.

“It’s the law vs. it’s a grey matter!”


When I watch a film, I’ve made a rule of keeping an open mind and a selfish one too. I have decided to keep the bad part away and take what is good with me. That helps me enjoy The Attacks of 26/11 not thinking that it’s an RGV film so it’s supposed to be disappointing. So with an open mind, when I watched this film for the second time, I noted down a lot that the film has to offer… Mostly good although unconventional. Most importantly it has given all of the young filmmakers something to aspire to. The dedication, the honesty and the genuine efforts of the makers. And it has again proved the point that any artist needs to have one quality in his possession in order to be successful – conviction.
“When I am making a film, I am the audience.” – Martin Scorsese

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