By Yash Thakur. Posted on April 13, 2015
Little can be said about Chaitanya Tamhane's Court, that hasn't already been said. Winner of over 19 awards all over the world, including the National Award for Best Feature, Court is the woeful tale that is India's judiciary. The film revolves around a protest folk-singer who is accused of instigating a sewer-cleaning worker to commit suicide, the upper middle class activist lawyer defending him, the prosecution lawyer who rides the train daily to work and the judge who presides over the case.
The film shot in long shots and wide angles, captures the absurdity and banality of an individual's struggle against the bureaucratic system with subtlety. Unlike other festival winners, Court is getting a theatrical release. It might not be the theatrical release it deserves, but it is a release nonetheless. If there is one movie that you should not miss this year, it is this.
We spoke with Chaitanya Tamhane, the talented young director of this film, on a variety of things: from his writing process to dealing with non-actors to the unique style of filmmaking he's followed.
Below are a few excerpts from that conversation;
On Why He Makes Films & The Films He Enjoys
"I direct because I don’t find confidence in someone else to make my film. If I do find a good director, definitely I’ll spare myself the trouble of directing (laughs). I am very protective about my scripts, so I end up making it. I have been doing this since the age of 19. I have been fortunate to find myself the right mentors, friends and crew who are there with my every step.
Off late I have liked the more calmer films. I am not attracted to flashy films. I like the films more than the filmmaker. I don’t look at their body of work; I prefer to judge films individually. As a young guy, I grew up watching a lot of Asian filmmakers, European too."
How Six Strands (his short film) Helped Him
"There are many things to be noted: I had never traveled outside India before Court happened. Going abroad really opened up my mind, I met so many kinds of people, saw so many films. It was like an exercise in culture; some of the people I met have now become good friends. Secondly, while I was talking about Court to people, I also showed them my short film (Six Strands), which helped me win more of their trust and acknowledgement.
Lastly, my experience of working on Six Strands with the crew was not that good at all. I was not happy with the things panned out with the film. It taught me the value of a good crew and the necessity of it. You have to find people with whom you are comfortable working with. Even hiring a crew is like casting. You have to be really sure that these are the people you want to work with before rolling the camera."
On His Writing Process
"For me, the writing process is a very painful and a lonely one. Every day you want to wake up and you want to see the script ready, but it is not. There is a lot of editing to do in the script making process. It has a lot to do with finding the right structure for your film. I had to move around my plot points a lot of times. It was frustrating, I questioned myself as to why did I start this journey. It’s like you hate it when you are doing it, but you love it once it’s over and you want to do it all over again."
On How They Got The Cast Right
"Satchit Puranik was a friend of mine (who is the casting director of the film) and he had never casted for a film before. I remember narrating the story to him at a coffee shop and I told him that I wanted to cast non-professional actors, fresh faces and he agreed instantly. He just went out on the streets and approached people for the film and I was fine with it. It was a very long process of going through auditions; there were almost 2-3 rounds of auditions.
In the beginning we would just talk to them about their lives, in the next round we would make them aware that there is a camera and in the third round we would ask them to enact scenes from the film. We wanted to see how they react under pressure, since they had never acted before. Finally there was a workshop with the rest of cast and rehearsals on the sets. There was a casting team of about 8 people who went around Maharashtra to find the right faces.
It was emotionally very draining for all of us. Court has a huge cast and without many cuts. It was a game of patience. The scenes were long, and after 12-13 takes I would get weary, and proclaim to cancel the shoot. It was strenuous even for the non-actors; they would feel that they were delaying the shoot and feel guilty about it, with all the production team waiting for them to perform. Things started to work out after 20-21 takes. It was my job to not so my stress to them, and make it seem all normal. On an average we took around 30-35 takes. We just took 1 or 2 scenes a day. The film was shot in 45 days over 2 months."
On Shooting In Long Takes & Wide Angles
"Honestly, I did not know the rhythm while I was shooting. I did know though that I wanted to shoot long takes. I shot everything, often, more than once. Who knew what I could use in the edit? The edit was very loose, I was worried. The first cut was too slow, it had too many unnecessary things. Then we made an edit where the film was very fast and sharp and I was worried again; it was not the film that I believed in. Slowly though we found the rhythm. We saw that in couple of scenes it really caught the tempo, which soon became the language of the film.
The style is a mixture of two to three things actually- one is of course because of the need of the narrative to be detached, it is an observational film. Most films are subjective and they want the audience to be in the driver’s seat. But Court is not like that. Also personally, it has a lot to do with the kind of cinema I have watched."
A Still From Court
On The Joy Of Making 'Court'
"There was a sense of great joy in the entire team while we were making the film; we were content that we got the chance to at least make a full fledged feature. There was a certain pure celebration every day that we are making the film that we really want to make. With Vivek, I had made it clear that there are absolutely limited commercial prospects; these kinds of films don’t make money and we weren’t even sure that the film would ever release. For some strange reason, he really believed in the script and decided to invest in it. He liked the story and he too really wanted to see it made. He is not the kind of person who thinks much about the commerce, he works from the heart. What has happened now with the film is a total surprise for us!"
On The Success Of & Response To His Film
"A lot of the critics and audience have pigeonholed the film criticizing the Indian judiciary, but a lot of people abroad who have understood it, look at it as a study of institutions and power dynamics. It is just an experience of a courtroom in general. Similar things (like in India) are happening across the world. It is a look at the people in power and how they deal with the ones who don’t have any.
Just like how India is going through a certain socio/political shift today, there is a similar shift in countries around the world which have their own voices of dissent and protest. There is unrest happening here and there. When we went to Hong Kong we saw protests happening; there was a similar scenario when we went to Turkey. It was very interesting to see how similar most of us are."
On His Future Plans
"I take a lot of time to develop a project. Right now, I have an idea for a feature film but it is too early to talk about it. I hope to start working on it after the release of Court. I am also trying to develop a sitcom for a web series, but it is still in its nascent stages."