Please Keep your Date

Chaitanya Tamhane
Writer - Director

Film Review
Court:Go Witness this Trial

Pl Mark Your Date

Court is a satire on Indian Judicial System that still follows certain 19th Century archaic laws / acts. Easy and simple, yet touching story of routine never-ending litigations, this film also serves as a very close experience of real-life court proceedings.   

Narayan Kamble is a firebrand Poet who sings his rebellious poems during small mohalla gatherings. Such performances are a normal practice in interior Maharashtra but more often just for entertainment. Here Narayan uses the dais to vent his angst against the system.

Pawar, a sewage cleaner, is one day found dead in a manhole. Police presume it a suicide and blame Narayan for instigating Pawar to take his life. Narayan is tried under “Abetment of Suicide Charges” in the Court of Justice Sadavarte, by Public Prosecutor Mrs. Kulkarni. Vinay Vora, a human rights’ activist and lawyer, takes up to defend his case.

With just this bare minimum set-up, we get the complete experience of court procedures, practises and justice system without getting into many of well-known clichés like bribes etc.

During this one main trial, the film-maker keeps showing some parallel trials to show different flaws of the legal system. 

How defence lawyers use loop-holes / lame excuses to buy time even in simple open-book cases and how archaic laws define dressings for women to appear in court are classic examples of satire.

Narayan’s case goes on lingering as he is put to the torture for apparent no crime. Even when his innocence is almost proved, the defence barely manages to get bail for him, but only to be arrested again in some other case. This has been nicely incorporated in some other foreboding story.

There are a few things I loved to watch as a writer.

One - Humour. There are no direct jokes/one-liners, but the sham proceedings and common issues of everyday life constantly keep evoking chuckles. This works perfectly in a lighter vein.

Two - Characterization. There is no clear Protagonist in the story. The narrative follows a certain principal character and we are immediately invested and interested in him/her. In retrospect, this looks a fine device of showing your character, not necessarily in the set-up, the usual style of storytelling. In fact, Sadavarte’s character is revealed in detail in the third act. Also, there is no clear antagonist. Rather there is none. All of them are doing their jobs and mostly as part of the routine machinery.

Three - Narrative. As mentioned above the film doesn’t get into too much of complex style of narration. The plot progresses linearly and quite smoothly. You get to know the characters and the plot gradually. Another beauty of the narrative is the parallel tracks especially the trials which though not connected directly with the main plot, offer another slice of the experience of the machinery.

A sample of Narayan’s innocence also comes through a passing scene where after he leaves the dais people get back to enjoying popular Bollywood performances. Another satire as how much such poems or films affect the society.

The casting director must also be applauded for such a perfect cast. Ditto with the art direction. Minute attention has been paid to most detailings..including the calendars on the walls.

It will keep its class of audience and critics happy. However, it is much different from what is perceived as entertainment by a major section of the audience.

It doesn’t follow our usual Writing theories. There is no rising tension; there is no big climax, dramatization, also no character graph. People remain the way they are. More like life. Yet it works because we are with the characters. Comes as a good lesson.

Nevertheless, the film leaves us with its share of questions as writers. Meaning it is not short of those usual screenplay issues. I wonder why Pawar’s (the deceased worker) wife was taken away from the scene right from the beginning. The moment she comes the course of trial changes. Had she been around, the trial wouldn’t have stretched so long. In Jolly LLB, the lawyer goes in search of a crucial witness. This is normal practice. But defence lawyer Vora comes back when he finds her house locked. Why doesn't he go an extra mile given she was the key witness? Why doesn’t he send summons/bailiff to her? Also, if someone is a stock witness (Shankar Bhoir in the film), why this fact is not looked into at an earlier stage. He being a practising lawyer; this could have been in his knowledge. He is a defence lawyer or a defensive lawyer one is forced to wonder. Overall, to some extent I felt, the trial was played as per the requirement of the narrative. But well that’s part of the game and passes off given the impact of the story and people’s emotional investment in the characters.

Please go and appear in this court, that’s my COURTesy call, you would love to have registered your witness of this trial.    




   Sanjay Sharma

Critic who loves to appreciate.

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