A slow-burning and utterly compelling film about India’s creaking legal system has been chosen as the country’s official entry for Best Foreign Language Film in next year’s Oscars.
Chaitanya Tamhane’s ‘Court’ has won widespread acclaim at film festivals around the world – including at this year’s London Indian Film Festival and many believe the film offers India its best shot at going home with a statuette.
As has been traditional with choosing a film from India’s vast and disparate film industry, Wednesday’s vote by a committee set up by the Film Federation of India, was also marred by controversy with a committee member resigning moments before the final announcement, accusing committee chairman Amol Palekar of corruption.
The committee member, film director Rahul Rawail, told Reuters that Mr Palekar had been “corrupt” although he insisted that Court was his choice too.
Palekar has refused to comment and said Court’s choice had been unanimous.
Filmed in English, Marathi and Hindi Tamhane’s film depicts India’s lumbering justice system through the eyes of an aged folk musician Narayan Kamble who is arrested on charges of “abetting suicide” following the death of a sewer-worker.
Thus begins a cat-and-mouse game between Kamble’s lawyer Vinay Vora and his scrupulous foe, the state prosecutor.
Kambel and Vora have to battle not only a government with a propensity to lock away anyone who doesn’t appear to toe the line but also relies on outdated, often medieval, laws to do so.
It’s a remarkable film for many reasons, not least the gifted Tamhane who had never made a feature film before.
The film won India’s national film award this year and writer-director Tamhane picked up the “Lion of the Future” award for debut films at the 2014 Venice Film Festival.
“Ever since we started making the film, we kept our expectations low,” Tamhane said on Wednesday. “Especially in this case, since these results tend to be so unpredictable, it just felt like a wise thing to not expect too much.”
An Indian film has never won the best foreign film Oscar, but “Lagaan“, “Salaam Bombay” and “Mother India” were shortlisted for the award.
Aamir Khan’s colonial-era epic “Lagaan” was the last to make the cut back in 2001.
Controversy erupted in 2013 when a little known Gujarati film named ‘The Good Road’ was chosen as India’s official choice over Ritesh Batra’s festival favourite ‘The Lunchbox’, sparking uproar on Twitter.