The Peacock @ Court

court illustration
By Vivek Menezes

Have some pity for The Peacock editors! While the rest of you feast deeply from the prodigious banquet of cinema laid out at the 46th International Film Festival of India, we spend every waking hour hunkered deep in our spartan bunker poring over reams of text, sifting through piles of photographs, laying out page after page late into the night.
But on the 24th, we grabbed a chance. Egged on by an ace cinephile on our team (like most of them, Suyash Kamat is so young it would only embarrass him to list his age), my colleagues Amol Kamat, José Lourenço and I trooped over to the multiplex for the sole IFFI 2015 screening of ‘Court’ (2014), the highly praised debut film by 28-year-old director Chaitanya Tamhane, which has recently been named India’s official entry for the Best Foreign Film award at this year’s Academy Awards.
Most delegates at IFFI are likely familiar with ‘Court’. Widely heralded as a masterpiece, it debuted at the Venice International Film Festival where it won Best Film in the Horizons category, and Tamhane was awarded the Lion of the Future award. More prizes have come in a torrent: honours at Mumbai, Vienna, Antalya and Singapore film festivals, and Best Feature Film at the National Film Awards. The Hollywood Reporter crowned Tamhane “one of the world’s most accomplished and promising film-makers under 30.”
At the IFFI 2015 screening, Amol, Jose and I quietly watched Tamhane’s unflinching wide-angle lens steadily absorb all the details, pathos and casual tyranny of judicial procedure in India, then similarly unhurriedly follow the characters out of the courtroom and back into the routines of their daily lives. The sheer, arresting quiet that distinguishes the movie, as well as the court proceedings, stands in stark contrast to the high drama of what is at stake: an obviously innocent man is being cruelly hounded by the state on patently false charges, and further afflicted by an absurd and out-of-date system of laws, wielded bluntly by policemen with no regard for procedure, and a deeply cynical prosecutor.
Was it worth Amol, Jose and I missing two hours of crucial work time in the middle of our day (which resulted in our having to edit The Peacock till midnight) to see ‘Court’? Undoubtedly yes, because the movie resonates so strongly with the commentary and opinions that filters through every day to our desks at The Peacock. When the folk singer at the centre of the movie is dragged back in front of a judge yet again (on the verge of being found not guilty of previous charges) it is for  “conspiracy to commit terrorism … by any means of whatever nature.” In other words, as the prosecutor says, “anything!”
Similarly, over the past week, very many people interviewed by us at IFFI  expressed grave concern and dismay about random and arbitrary application of serious charges, and  routine misuse of the machinery of the state, to silence diversity in the arts. Almost everyone we talked to wanted to publicly express disagreement with  labelling spirited film students “anti-national”, and regretted the heavy-handed exclusion of a few  dissenting voices.
“India is not North Korea” we were told. But we all know that democracy by itself is no panacea when misapplied and perverted. Who will police the policemen? That is what Amol and Jose and I talked about while walking back to our cubicles in the Maquinez Palace.

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