By Jahnavi Patwardhan. Posted on April 27, 2015
Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court has been the talk of the town for a while now. It presents the stark reality of Indian judicial system and has won acclaim at film festivals across the world.
The story of a protest folk-singer who is accused of instigating the suicide of a sewage cleaner though his songs and subsequently, 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 is an honest display of how the judiciary works today.
In addition to the compelling story and direction, the production design of the film which included the the creation of extremely realistic sets, was also very impressive. We spoke with Pooja Talreja, the production designer of the film, about the production process of Court.
The production design was done by Somnath Pal and me. We have known Chaitanya for a long time so we were involved in the movie since the conceptualization stage. The film was shot in real locations, except the courtrooms and the police station. The magistrate court and the police station were actual locations that we had modified and dressed. The sessions court was a set that we had built from scratch. The exterior of the magistrate court was actually a school that had to be redone a little since it was crumbling down. The rest were actual locations with some additions that we did. The challenge was to make the additions blend into the entire picture to make it look realistic.
We began with the 4 key characters, the folk-singer, the 2 lawyers and the judge. All 4 characters and their lives were very distinct from one another. We started off with trying to identify these key characters as different worlds with their different languages. The initial process involved trying to establish what fell under these worlds. We created different colour zones and elements as well for the characters which were subtly introduced into their stories.
As part of the research for the sets, Somnath and I went to a number of courts in Mumbai and sat there observing everything right from where the papers and documents are kept to how the people where behaving in the court. We studied in great detail about how to use the space, signages and other such details.
We also made a lot of plans for the space that would be the courtroom. We haven’t used any green screen for the exterior of the courtroom either. Whatever can be seen out of the window has been created too. We wanted to create not just what happens on the screen but what happens off it as well. We put in that extra effort for the exterior because we wanted the illusion to hold true.
Somnath and I are very new at this, so this was kind of an initial attempt for both of us. We thought of a lot of colour zones and they defined our choices most of the times, but they still remained extremely subtle. While creating the public prosecutor's world, it went back to the 90's. So we have tried to use colours that you don’t see in houses anymore. Those particular kinds of peach and greens laminates used in her house are almost outdated now. The furniture used is also very old. With Vivek we have tried to bring out the blues.
The sessions courts are meant to be very clinical and clean in their structure and space especially compared to the magistrate court as we were trying to create a hierarchy. With the judge, when we showed his life outside the court (the picnic sequence) we tried to show a completely different side of him. The sequence was about this entire extended family outing, so we added a lot of hues and the sequence had loud, garish colours.
I am an architect by profession. I had been working at an architectural firm before Court began. I had never really done production design before, but I had worked with Chaitanya on his play- Grey Elephants In Denmark and later on his short film Six Strands, in which I assisted the art director. Currently I am back to working as an architect on a project. When Court happened, I left my job to pursue this project. All of us realized that this project needed a lot of research and we needed a lot of time to understand this entire endeavor.
I am extremely happy when people say that they never realized the set was mostly built from scratch, because as a designer, that’s the biggest challenge. Apart from that, it’s so great that the film has received so much appreciation and the response has been overwhelming. We are all relatively new to this so none of us were expecting such a response but now that it is happening it feels amazing.