To accept the premise of Court is to submit oneself to the rules of a Kafkaesque society and the cynicism that comes along with it. That you will never reach the conclusion of the bizarre court case that is ongoing here, is a given from the first scene. A Big Brother-like entity descending upon the accused — performing in front of his audience — takes us by the collar and lands us in the extremely painful environment of the court proceedings. The charges are absurd in nature and the proceedings of the court fortify the thought that this labyrinthine tale will never reach its conclusion.
What we are in our public personas, sitting in chairs that signify secular authority, is juxtaposed with the private lives of the three most important individuals who become part of these proceedings after the accusations are levelled against the accused. The humble background of the public prosecutor, the affluence of the defense lawyer and the summer holidays of the sessions court judge clearly seem to point at the malaise that exists in the society. It is difficult to say who the protagonist of this story is. Or probably, it is the story of three individuals criss-crossing each others’ lives for the same court case.
Since childhood we have heard the phrase, “Police aur court-kachehri ke chakkar mein kaun padega?” (who wants to get trapped in the unending loop of the police and a court case?) and it is this chakkar that you get to witness in this film. Not at any point does the film focus on the trials of an individual, nor does it get into the detailed history of the alleged crime committed. The true perpetrator of the crime is probably behind the camera: an all pervasive entity that swoops down every time it decides to play havoc with somebody’s life. The middle class has risen and has become one of the most important growth kernels in India’s history. But the movie dissects and analyses this rise of economic power vis-a-vis a broadening of world views. The judge who ideally should be a truly rational man is given to the temptations of the superstitious kind in his private life. His rationality in private life is dependent on data points of convenience and the authority that belongs to his professional life is subsumed in his private life. He rattles off data about the absurd salaries of MBA professionals with a sense of declaration that if they expect us judges to be more efficient in our professional lives then may be they need to pay us more. That these salaries are not just exorbitant but definitely fictitious, is irrelevant to the judge. He is passing a judgement on the society as a whole without basing it in facts. And he drives his judgement in the direction of his choosing and convenience based on these conjured-up facts.
The two other forces facing off each other are the extremely contrasting personal and professional lives of the public prosecutor and the defense attorney. One coming from the lower rungs of the middle class, traveling in crowded public transport and going home to cook for her family in a small one-room-kitchen — possibly government-allotted house — and the other living in a fancy apartment, traveling to courthouses in his luxury sedan. The distance between the public prosecutor and the accused is lesser than that of the defense lawyer and the defendant. But this lack of distance leads not to empathy but disgust. She wants to desperately move away from the webs of her not-so-luxurious life and the accused represents those rungs she might have navigated herself. She has no sympathy or even empathy for the accused representing the scum of life she has left behind. She would rather that all these people (accused and the like) be put behind the bars and be done with it.
On the other hand, the distance between the defense lawyer and the defendant could not be more. But he comes to his aid in charity. He cries alone in the night when he is attacked and his face is blackened for he is grappling with his choices of defending the poor and defenseless and how he could have taken the easier route of making money in a system that is favourable to those who wish to make millions. His choice of not having married and living alone in his house, drinking himself to sleep are tied to his inability to find people who understand him and could share his mind-space. He goes to pubs with his friends, possibly only joined at the hip for their common denominator of money. He enjoys himself in these situations but longs for a just world that provides for all. In his empathy he stands alone, much like the director, I suspect. In his battle for finding neverland the director understands the fabric of this society so well that he feels hopeless. He is sure of one thing only. That there is no hope.
During the scene when the lights go off in the empty courtroom one by one, we see his hopelessness painted across the canvas of our minds. The sighing camera slowly disappears into the darkness and stays there, making it the uncomfortable truth of the nature of being us. It lets us grapple in the dark of the lack of solution to this system which while created to serve and protect us does not allow us to express our thoughts without repercussions. The world exists beyond the walls of this courtroom, the one where the the principle characters exist. You do not get into the life of the accused/defendant, you only understand the people enmeshed in the web of the justice system. Justice will never be done because judgments are pronounced by human beings, individuals who can not shed their personalities and bring the balance of the constitution into the courtroom they serve. It is probably the courtroom they serve and not the voiceless humans who are brought in to the room repeatedly to be abused and censured. After the accused is exonerated of the crimes he is brought back in for defending against a different set of charges, just as absurd and arbitrary in nature as the first one and the cycle (court-kachehri ka chakkar) of justice persists.
Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock (1899-1980)
English film director and producer
Also known as ‘The Master of Suspense’
Films of note: The Manxman (1929), Waltzes from Vienna (1934), The 39 Steps (1935), Rebecca (1940), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Strangers on a Train (1951), Dial M For Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954), To Catch a Thief (1955), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Vertigo (1958), North By Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963)
The Cameraman’s Revenge was made by director and animator Wladyslaw Starewicz in 1912, using real dead insects as puppets, and filmed in stop-motion style. The effects is so life-like, it is a wonder that this idea has not been replicated since then.
Original and Inventive, The Cameraman’s Revenge provides entertainment and amusement to a story of infidelity in a disintegrating marriage. The cynical intertitles add to the humour and make this a wonderful satirical piece.
Francis Ford Coppola (1939 – present)
American film director, producer and screenwriter
Prominent contributor to the New Hollywood Wave
Films of note: Patton (1970), The Godfather Trilogy (1972, 1974,1990) The Great Gatsby (1974), Apocalypse Now (1979), Kagemusha (1980), The Outsiders (1983), The Cotton Club (1984), Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)
Alex performing “Singing in the Rain” as he attacks the writer and his wife was not scripted. Stanley Kubrick spent four days experimenting with this scene, finding it too conventional. Eventually he approached Malcolm McDowell and asked him if he could dance. They tried the scene again, this time with McDowell dancing and singing the only song he could remember. Kubrick was so amused that he swiftly bought the rights to “Singing in the Rain” for $10,000.
When Malcolm McDowell met Gene Kelly at a party several years later, the older star turned and walked away in disgust. Kelly was deeply upset about the way his signature from Singin’ in the Rain (1952) had been portrayed in A Clockwork Orange (1971).
Rated #2 of the 25 most controversial movies of all time by Entertainment Weekly, 16 June 2006. Rated by Premiere as one of “The 25 Most Dangerous Movies.” Rated as the #70 Greatest Movie of All Time by the American Film Institute, 2007. Rated #4 out of 10 by the American Film Institute’s “Sci-Fi” list, June 2008. The film was unavailable for public viewing in the UK from 1973 until 2000, the year after Stanley Kubrick‘s death. British video stores were so inundated with requests for the movie that some took to putting up signs that read: ‘No, we do not have A Clockwork Orange (1971).’
Innocence and curiosity, both hallmarks of childhood, are lovely to interact with. I recently had the opportunity of such an interaction when I tagged along with a friend for a small programme he did with a group of children.
The group consisted of toppers of Class IX from 27 government schools in the villages of Dantewada district (Chhattisgarh), who were visiting Pune for a five-day Science Camp called ‘Jigyasa’. The camp was organised by Disha, a group of student-volunteers from Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) for a programme aptly named ‘Bachpan Banao’.
After five days of hands-on activities to get a grip on the fundamentals of science, on the 6th day (kept aside for fun activities), we had to show a film, Vishal Bhardwaj’s ‘Makdee’, to the group and discuss it, based on their understanding of science, superstition and discarding age-old beliefs that do not hold true in today’s contexts and the application of logic to these beliefs. The movie was watched with glee and the discussion that followed was enthusiastic. Some questions raised were tough to answer, considering the aim was not to lead them towards disrespecting culture, tradition and the science behind what have now become superstitions.
In discussions prior to the start of the programme, my friend and I had defined an objective – to help the children understand that curiosity, the passion to keep learning and the ability to question and not merely accept are extremely important for them to be able to grow into wise people. It was only helpful, when we discovered during the course of the programme that most of these children already had the temperament we were trying to encourage. The only hitch was, like anywhere else in the world, curiosity was not as welcome back in their villages.
For long after the programme had formally ended, my friend and I had each found ourselves surrounded by small groups to discuss the subject of the day in finer detail. One girl told me about the constant and fiery conflict between the village’s sarpanch who condoned animal sacrifice, and the village’s chief priest who suggested it to anyone who went to him with a problem. Another boy spoke about an invisible entity in front of the village banyan tree throwing pebbles at passers by after dark. Yet another boy wanted to understand how and why certain sadhus walk on burning coal or sleep on a bed of nails. But whenever the children had asked questions pertaining to these these things to their elders, they had always been either been told off or told, “It’s tradition. Our elders have been doing it forever.”
The most interesting contribution to this informal, after-class conversation had come from a quiet girl who had watched the movie wide-eyed and had sat timidly crouched in her seat afterwards. She said that all these superstitions begin at home. “Don’t you see it? When you are being mischievous, your parents tell you to behave, otherwise the ghost that prowls around the village will take you away. That is when we learn to be scared and not ‘talk back’.” That hit me as quite a bit of candid observation coming from a young girl of 14.
Why do we then discredit schools and teachers, when these basic teachings that guide us through life are first given at home by parents and grandparents? When we city-bred people consider ourselves modern and better off than those living in the ignored rural areas, why do we not stop ourselves from scaring our children with stories of ghouls, ghosts and poltergeists? Aside from the fact that science is still exploring the existence of these supernatural elements, we are are guilty of curbing the curiosity of a child and pushing him towards learning by rote. Education always begins at home, and we need to reevaluate what kinds of temperaments and attitudes we are passing on to our kids today.
Note: This blog first appeared on http://www.business-standard.com on January 7th, 2013.