“Law is not set in stone, it has to be interpreted”: An interview with Court director Chaitanya Tamhane

16 April 2015

In the film Court, Narayan Kamble is a social activist in his mid-sixties who goes around the streets of Mumbai and leads his ensemble of activist-supporters through the city’s working-class spine. Kamble is arrested and charged with inciting a sewage worker to commit suicide through one of his songs. What follows is a trial—its tenets so bizarre—in which the narrative follows the lives of each of those involved, including the public prosecutor (Nutan), the natural pivot of the judiciary (Judge Sadavarte) and the defence attorney (Vinay Vora). Court has received a number of accolades over the past year, including, most recently, the National Film Award. Manik Sharma spoke to Chaitanya Tamhane, the debutant director of the film about working with untrained actors and striving for an objective realisation of the film.

Manik Sharma: What were you doing before the idea of Court came to you?

Chaitanya Tamhane: I’m a graduate in English, and I’ve been associated with writing in some form or the other since the age of seventeen. At nineteen, I had started doing my own independent projects, which included shooting a self-funded documentary called Four Step Plan in 2005. I then wrote a play called Grey Elephants in Denmark in 2009. A year later I shot a short film called Six Strands. But none of these projects yielded any income, something I was being constantly pressurised for at home. It was probably the most depressing time of my life, as I did not want to sell my soul for a desk job but wasn’t making any money either. I was twenty-four when the idea of the film really began taking shape in my mind.

MS: Was the inspiration behind Court a singular experience? Or was it a mixture of different elements?

CT: Quite a lot actually. I’ve always liked research, so I followed a few cases, but what I was most intrigued by was the setting of lower courts, something that has always been overdramatised in mainstream cinema. Also, the world of folk music fascinated me—artistes like Sambhaji Bhagat. Of the cases, a significant lead that I followed was the case of Jitan Marandi—a bemusing case of mistaken identity—which encouraged me to explore the satirical aspect of the judiciary. Apart from these, talking to activists, lawyers and diving into newspaper clippings was fairly regular. I did a year of research on all aspects before I could see the film panning in my head.

Manik Sharma writes on arts, culture, books and film.