The year in review

Best of Bollywood 2015: ‘Court’

The themes of justice, freedom of expression and tolerance played out during a trial without an end.

The Indian justice system is on trial in one of the most assured debuts in recent times.

Court

Court is a “Bollywood” movie in the sense it was released in cinemas this year and contains a fair amount of Hindi. Chaitanya Tamhane’s brilliant debut chronicles the inherent absurdities and cruelties of the Indian judicial system through the trial of a radical Dalit poet (Vira Sathidar), who has been arrested on the dubious charge of having incited a sewage cleaner to suicide through one of his songs. The plodding pace of Narayan Kamble’s trial is mirrored by the leisurely narrative. In between the seemingly routine court appearances that appear to stretch on for eternity, the defence lawyer (Vivek Gomber, also the movie’s producer) hangs out at a jazz club and picks up wine from a gourmet food store, while the public prosecutor cooks for her family and watches a play.

Tamhane adopts a strictly observational tone, relies on realistic dialogue and acting. There is no soaring background music to cue in emotions, and the narrative appears to eschew all comment. But there is no mistaking the quiet outrage over the curbs on Kamble’s freedom of expression and the general culture of intolerance that cobbles the defence lawyer’s struggle for a fair hearing.

Is Kamble an artist asking tough questions or an anti-national? And what about the sewage worker, in whose name the state has thrown Kamble into jail? The movie keeps a tight lid on emotions, but one sequence lays bare Court’s ideological bent and subversive streak: the deposition of Sharmila Pawar, the sewage worker’s widow.

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Pawar is played by Usha Bane, who lives in a slum in Dahisar, a suburb on the edge of Mumbai, and has never acted before. “We were blown away by her very first audition, and we could not believe how well she was performing,” Tamhane said. “She was given an imaginary situation in the courtoom and she had to improvise. “Her husband was an ambulance driver who had died in an accident, and she had been to court several times to answer a lot of questions, so she knew what the scene was about.”

Court is a tightly scripted film with no room for improvisation, down to the monosyllabic replies that Bane gives to the defence lawyer’s increasingly troubling questions. “These are lines for somebody to assimilate and make them their own, and Usha needed very little direction,” Tamhane said.

The sequence came in the middle of the shoot, by which time Court’s shooting style – long takes, numerous mid-long shots – had already been established. The courtroom portions were shot in sequence since the filmmakers had the set for only a week, Tamhane explained. “By then, we already had the language of the film down.” Two cameras were used by cinematographer Mrinal Desai in the courtoom bits to capture the reactions of all the characters. “It was a totally scripted set-up, and if there was the slightest hesitation in what the actors were saying, we had to start all over again,” Tamhane said.

Clip courtesy Zoo Entertainment.

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.