The 88th Oscar Awards will be announced at the annual Academy Awards ceremony on 28 February, 2016. So far only three Indian films have been nominated for the Foreign Film category at the Oscars: Mother India (1957), Salaam Bombay! (1988) and Lagaan (2001) for the Foreign Film category at the Oscars. Sadly none of them took home the most coveted golden guy of International Cinema.
Last evening, actor Amol Palekar, who heads the Film Federation of India (FFI) jury, announced India’s entry for the 2016 Oscar Awards. The final decision was selected from a list of 30 films in favour of Chaitanya Tamhane’s ‘Court’. The film has already won two FIPRESCI prizes, two awards at the Venice Film Festival and also bagged the National Award for Best Feature Film. We hope this time we don’t see any protests and controversies like there were in 2013 when ‘The Lunchbox’ lost out to ‘The Good Road’. The list of the 30 nominated films has not yet been made public, though it has been assumed that films like Avinash Arun’s ‘Killa’ (Crystal Bear at the Berlinale), Neeraj Ghaywan’s ‘Masaan’ (two awards at Cannes Film Festival), Vikram Sengupta’s ‘Labour of Love’ and M. Manikandan’s ‘Kakka Muttai’ would have definitely made the list.
‘Court’, Chaitanya Tamhane’s debut feature film, was released to cinema halls on 15 July 2015. It is based on a court trial of a singer-activist who has rubbed the authorities the wrong way and is also accused of abetting a sewer worker’s suicide. The film’s meticulous detailing takes a sharp satirical look at the stark contrast in the lives of the accused, the defense, the prosecution and the judge. ‘Court’ depicts the unfortunate reality of Indian courts and Indian court cases. It dexterously weaves wry humor into a mix of paradoxes, frustrations and contradictions that surround our judicial system in India. The film is supported with an intelligent understated script that has great attention to detail. The characters are very well thought out and look convincing in their roles.
There are just five spots that US grants the rest of the cinematic world for nominations in the Foreign Film category at the Oscars. India’s ‘Court’ faces competition from probably much better financed films nominated from the following nations
- France has nominated the well known ‘Mustang’ instead of ‘Dheepan’ (Palme d’Or-winner).
- Sweden has announced ‘A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence’ as its entry.
- Hungary enters with ‘Son of Saul’ (Cannes Grand Prix-winner)
- Taiwan has nominated ‘The Assassin’, (Hou Hsiao-Hsien Best Director at Cannes).
Court’s International Journey
Not many people know that ‘Court‘ has already bagged 18 international and other prestigious awards!
From the time Chaitanya Tamhane’s ‘Court’ premiered at the Venice International Film Festival in September last year , the film has won a number of awards at international festivals, including two International Federation of Critics (FIPRESCI) awards, and two trophies at Venice. Recently, it won the National Film Awards for ‘Best Feature Film’ and film for ‘Highest Cinematic Honour’ in India.
Tamhane spent almost two years on scripting, casting and pre-production of ‘Court’. He auditioned over 1,500 actors and just could not find a producer or financiers to believe in their production or fund it. Finally his own friend and actor Vivek Gomber (who plays the defence lawyer in the film), put his own money into the film.
Venice’s Mostra Internazionale d’Arte Cinematografica, is the oldest film festival in the world (1932) and also one of the most prestigious, along with Cannes, Berlin and Toronto. Tamhane and Gomber, a programmer at the Venice International Film Festival, who had taken an interest in the film, started applying to festivals right from March 2014. After being rejected by seven of them—including Cannes, Locarno and San Sebastian, they were finally accepted by Venice. Like they say, the rest is history. ‘Court’ went on to win the Orizzonti award, given to the best film in the ‘Horizons‘ category, the ‘Luigi De Laurentiis‘ award for best first feature, a ‘Fipresci‘ award at the Viennale, the ‘Grand Prix‘ and a second ‘Fipresci‘ prize at the Auteur Film Festival in Belgrade, Serbia, and ‘Best Film and Best Director‘ at the Singapore International Film Festival. It was also selected for the prestigious New Directors/New Films festival in New York. It picked up awards at the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival and the 21st Minsk Film Festival ‘Listapad‘. At the 16th Mumbai Film Festival the film won ‘Best Film‘ and ‘Best Director‘, plus a special jury mention for the cast. The day before Tamhane and Gomber left for the US, the announcement came that they had won ‘Best Feature Film‘ at India’s National Film Awards. Since ‘Byari’ and ‘Ship Of Theseus’ this was only the third time in four years that a full-length debut feature film had won the ‘Best Feature‘ prize.
Right up to the Venice film festival, ‘Court’ had no sales agent, having being rejected by all the big names they had applied to. As fate would have it, Deepti Da Cunha, the programmer with the Rome International Film Festival, introduced Tamhane to Alexa Rivero, a producer who in turn recommended the film to Memento Films International, the French agency. On 26 March, ‘Court‘ premiered at USA as part of a line-up that included ‘The Tribe’ and ‘White God’.
Film Review Extract of Oscar Nominee
Court revolves around the trial of one Narayan Kamble (Vira Sathidar), a man of few words and a singer of transformational power. The case against him, as his lawyer, Vinay (Vivek Gomber, also the film’s producer), finds out, is that he abetted, through one of his performances in a Mumbai slum, the suicide of a local sewer worker. The public prosecutor, Nutan (Geetanjali Kulkarni), points to evidence of suicide, but also to Kamble’s earlier hearings for sedition and suggests links to anti-national groups.
The film draws on the real-life experiences of singer-activists like Sambhaji Bhagat, whose musical numbers are featured in Court, and cultural groups like the Kabir Kala Manch, whose members were charged under The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. One realizes after a while that Kamble isn’t guilty, that the worker died because it is terribly dangerous work carried out with minimal safety precautions. And that’s when the film becomes less about the case than the court and the people who populate it.
By following the main players—the two lawyers and the judge (Pradeep Joshi)—home from work, as it were, Tamhane reminds us that concepts like “justice” and “equality” derive from the people that work within the system, and that these people have prejudices and blind spots just like the rest of us.
Vinay, a well-to-do bachelor, is visibly passionate about the law, speaking at seminars and going out of his way to help the taciturn Kamble. He can afford to be idealistic in a way that the more middle-class Nutan can’t. When she goes home, she has to cook, run a household and study her casebooks; Vinay can have a drink and fall asleep in front of the TV. One particular contrast is devastating. At one point, Nutan and her husband and children watch a xenophobic stage comedy (and enjoy it). Later in the film, Vinay finds himself a victim of similar small-mindedness, manifested as a kind of street theatre.