A super naturalistic study in class, bureaucracy, and censorial stupidity, Chaitanya Tamhane's debut feature, Court, plants viewers in the plastic chairs of an Indian court of law as 69-year-old protest singer Narayan Kamble (Vira Sathidar) is tried for a crime he didn't commit by lawyers and a judge speaking a language, English, he doesn't understand. Kamble is being railroaded for his history of troublemaking in song and in published materials -- with a commanding voice he denounces the pitiless systems that keep people like him in punishing poverty.
He's not actually in the movie, much. Instead, Tamhane reveals the public case for and against him, as well as the private lives of the lawyers making the arguments. Tamhane's camera is still but observant, the perspective what you would see if you were sitting in these rooms in a brace that prevented movement of your head. But what we observe is written and staged with rare power, even when it's just the prosecutor (Geetanjali Kulkarni) going through her dreary paces. For the defense, Vivek Gomber is peppery, impassioned, rational, convincing, and sympathetic: He's persuasive railing against nineteenth-century precedent and demonstrating that the state's sole witness is a plant.
But Court proves most illuminating when Tamhane contrasts public and private lives. The film is wise about how those charged with maintaining systemic injustice are usually invested, first, in their own perseverance, which in this case means the perseverance of that system. The prosecutor isn't rich, and she has a family, and she holds the views of people like her. The defense attorney, by contrast, comes from money -- it stings that it's a luxury to worry about people like Kamble.