Film Notes: “Court” At San Francisco International Film Festival

Chaitanya Tamhane’s debut feature film “Court” pulls you right in. That is all I am going to say about this powerful film with its slow, meditative and unhurried pace with excellent acting by Vira Sathidar, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Vivek Gombar and others. “Court” takes you to places that you tend to ignore or overlook in India. The film leaves you in a pensive mood. This is the work of a master storyteller, with a keen eye and ear for details and accents .The film is in Marathi/Hindi/English. (Bonus: Watch Tamhane’s short film “Six Strands.”)

The film centers around the death of a sewage worker in Bombay. His death is blamed on a folk singer. It was the folks singer’s  music that abetted the sewage worker to commit suicide according to Bombay (Mumbai) police. And thus begins the helpless folk singer’s legal journey through a maze of sessions courts of Bombay. Through the film you see how see how the judicial system – especially the sessions court works in India with warts and all. More importantly, you see how people within these institutions function both at a professional and personal level and the contradictions in their lives. That is what makes this film so different and absorbing.

I had so many questions in my mind at the end of the film. How did Tamhane manage to make such an absorbing narrative about the court system and show a slice of  Bombay that we barely get to see? How did he find the actors? How did he shoot the film? It is evident  Tamhane has spent time researching and understanding how the sessions court function in Bombay. How did he flesh out his characters? How did he develop a ear for the accents and dialog of his characters? The dialog in the film make you sit up and notice. There is one scene where the judge refuses to listen to the case of a woman. Why? Because she was wearing a sleeveless blouse!

Predictably the film has won many awards including the Bombay and Venice Film Festivals. Last month “Court” won India’s National Film Award for best feature film. Is it any surprise then that “Court” is nominated for Golden Gate Award by the San Francisco Film Society (SFFS). The winners will be announced during the festival that runs from April 23 to May 7, 2015.

“Court” is part of the lineup at the 58th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF). You can catch “Court”  on May 3, 2015 at 4 pm and on May 6, 2015 at the Pacific Film Archive Theatre in Berkeley.

Here is the information of the screening of “Court” at SFFS.

“Court” will release later this year in the US through Zeitgeist Films.

Director & Writer: Chaitanya Tamhane

Starring: Vira Sathidar, Vivek Gomber and Geetanjali Kulkarni.