Court is a 2014 Indian multilingual legal drama film, written and directed by Chaitanya Tamhane in his directorial debut. The film examines the Indian legal system through the Mumbai Sessions Court trial of an ageing protest singer, Narayan Kamble (Vira Sathidar), who is accused of encouraging a manhole worker to commit suicide through one of his folk songs. It also stars Geetanjali Kulkarni, Pradeep Joshi and Shirish Pawar.
The film’s music was composed by Sambhaji Bhagat while Mrinal Desai and Rikhav Desai served as its cinematographer and editor, respectively. Tamhane was curious to see the difference between the real courtrooms and the way they were depicted in films. He wanted to explore the “judicial nightmare” in an Indian setting after coming across several real-life cases. His friend Vivek Gombre agreed to produce the film and also acted in it. The crew consisted of newcomers and the actors were non-professionals. There are four languages spoken in the film: Marathi, Hindi, Gujarati and English. Most of the dialogues are in Marathi as it is set in Maharashtra and the laws are read out in English. The defence lawyer is a Gujarati and speaks Gujarati language.
Court premiered at the 71st Venice International Film Festival in 2014, where it won the Best Film in the Horizons category and the Luigi De Laurentiis award for Tamhane. The film went on to win 18 other awards at several film festivals. It premiered in India at the International competition section of the 2014 Mumbai Film Festival and was released theatrically on 17 April 2015. Upon release, the film received critical acclaim and went on to win the National Film Award for Best Feature Film at the 62nd National Film Awards.
Narayan Kamble is a teacher, social activist and protest singer. He is arrested on the charge of prompting Vasudev Pawar, a manhole worker who allegedly committed suicide after being influenced by one of Kamble’s protest songs. Lawyer Vinay Vora defends Kamble, who is tried in the court and granted bail. Kamble admits to have sung several songs about suicide, but cannot remember if he sang any on the day of the suicide. He also denies any intention to provoke someone to commit suicide. A witness testifies that he saw the manhole worker singing Kamble’s song.
In the next hearing of the case, the investigating officer links Kamble with an incarcerated man, Ashwin Bhagat, through a letter, accusing them of planning illegal activity in the city. Vora explains to the court that Bhagat was requesting Kamble to take care of his ailing mother while he was in jail. Nutan, the public prosecutor, informs the court that Kamble possessed two banned books. Vora replies that one book is on Yoga and the other one is a critique of certain rituals of the Goyamari sect. Vora is later beaten by some Goyamaris.
Pawar’s widow confesses in court that her husband used to clean the manholes without any safety equipment and had lost one eye from exposure to poisonous sewer gases. She further confesses that he was also an alcoholic, but never talked about committing suicide. She denies his intentions of suicide or having heard Kamble’s name before. Vora reads the autopsy report which indicates Pawar died as a result of respiratory failure due to inhalation of hydrogen sulphide, with no sign of self-harm. He also says that the witness who testified against Kamble is a stock witness who has been testifying in several other cases.
Considering Kamble’s deteriorating health and the lack of evidence, Kamble is granted bail in the amount of ₹100,000 (US$1,400), which Vora pays on his behalf. Kamble is then subsequently arrested on charges of conducting seditious camps under the cover of folk-artist workshops, and is remanded to police custody. Kamble claims the charge and the evidence against him are fabricated and Vora pleads to reconsider the arrest as it will pose a severe risk to Kamble’s health; the judge tells Kamble to appeal to the High Court. Later, the judge is shown enjoying a holiday with his family.
Vira Sathidar as Narayan Kamble
Vivek Gomber as Vinay Vora
Geetanjali Kulkarni as public prosecutor Nutan
Pradeep Joshi as Judge Sadavarte
Usha Bane as Sharmila Pawar
Shirish Pawar as Subodh