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A sewerage worker's dead body is found inside a manhole in Mumbai. An ageing folk singer is tried in court on charges of abetment of suicide. He is accused of performing an inflammatory song which might have incited the worker to commit the act. As the trial unfolds, the personal lives of the lawyers and the judge involved in the case are observed outside the court.

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Court online movie review - Well made, but flawed; yet, elevated because of the performances by its lead actors

I found Chaitanya Tamhane's COURT to be like a "thriller". It is well written and nearly as true to life as possible.

I can vouch for this because I have faced this "taareekh pe taareekh" situation in a sessions court?there was a case where I was called as a witness on 26th of May, but since the judge was on leave on that day, the case was adjourned to 12th of August. There are several other such instances. However, despite all the pluses that it has, COURT also has a number of minuses because there are so many clichés and at least one important plot element is left open and unexplained.

What I liked most about COURT was, certainly, its writing. Also, the way the film follows the personal lives of the people involved in that case?the two lawyers (prosecution and defence), and the judge. This is also where the film, I felt, failed because the portrayal of the lawyers and the judge is quite cliché-ridden. The prosecution lawyer, who thinks that the folk singer is guilty of having driven a Dalit sewage cleaner to commit suicide, has been shown to be a middle-class Marathi woman. She is into beautiful saris and gives up eating sweet and oily foods because her husband is diabetic. So this lady is a typical sacrificing type, an apparently ideal Indian woman. Also, she enjoys watching popular Marathi plays that show people from north India (read Uttar Pradesh and Bihar) based in Mumbai as enemies to the local people in Maharashtra. On the other hand, the lawyer who represents the folk singer is shown to be a progressive-minded young man who attends meetings organised by social activists who come from the upper echelons of the society and speak proper English. He comes from a wealthy Gujarati family but lives away from his parents. He meets his parents and NRI sister for lunch at expensive restaurants. He parties with both male and female friends and drinks alcohol. He is single and is in no hurry to get married even though his parents worry about his marriage. His face is blackened by some goons because he apparently hurt the sentiments of some community. He weeps alone over this incident and then goes to a salon to get his face treated with mask and bleach.

This characterization, I felt, was terribly flawed. This type of characterization tries to push the view that all a middle-class Marathi woman is capable of doing is walk the line and blindly argue in an apparently absurd case; while a seemingly forward-thinking, English-speaking, and salon-going man is always rational. Also, that important plot element - the incident of a Dalit sewage worker committing suicide - gets abandoned once the plot gets into the personal lives of the lawyers and the judge.

Yet, despite such fundamental flaws, COURT is rescued by its setting and the performance of its actors. Vira Sathidar, Vivek Gomber, Geetanjali Kulkarni, and Pradeep Joshi are just terrific in the roles of, respectively, the accused folk singer, the defence lawyer, the prosecution lawyer, and the judge. They seem to have put lives into their roles?they are so convincing. Another short, understated and terrifically real performance comes from Usha Bane, who plays the dead sewage worker's widow. For its setting, the work of its lead actors, for giving us a quirky look at how courts work in India (in one instance, the judge refuses to take up a case because the plaintiff, a middle-aged Christian woman, had come to court wearing a sleeveless top!?the judge adjourns the case to some other day and advises the woman to come to court dressed decently!), and for shaking us badly in just 115 minutes flat, I will give Chaitanya Tamhane's COURT 8/10.

Tip: Try to get the DVD of COURT (Reliance Home Video, All Regions). There is a special feature on how the casting was done. This is really interesting.

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