This post is by Mohamed Thaver, who has covered the Sessions Court proceedings for Hindustan Times for over a year. As he watched Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court, he could not stop himself from making some Court-notes. Blame it on good ol’ journalism.
Thaver is a former journo who still finds it difficult to keep his nose out of crime, movies and book. Over to him now.
It is easier to hate people if you do not see them in human form. Especially, if, with the help of stock phrases, you just have to reduce them to pre-moulded narratives. After moving to report on the Mumbai Sessions court from crime reporting, the first thing that hit me was the absolutely direct access to the accused. While though initially it gave me a kick, seeing all these accused about whom I had been writing, soon I realized it was a tricky position to be in. To see these ‘demons’ in human forms was a bit inconvenient.
Seeing them in full view of the pathetic condition, their wives-mothers squatting at one end of the courtroom, missing a much needed day’s salary on most occasions; trying to understand first the English and next the legal jargon from the expressions of the judge and the lawyers. One had to be heartless to not feel for them. The irony of women reporters telling a rape accused that he had ink smudged on his face and giving him a tissue to wipe it with was never lost on me.
I almost felt possessive about the domain that debutant director Chaitanya Tamhane’s court deals with. The other day I saw a former colleague covering sessions court say ‘Finally a movie about us’ on a social media platform. Court’s have always aroused curiosity, as it is on most occasions wrongly construed to be a place of high drama. However, the exclusive access to this beat, sometimes encouraged us to keep the myth going, as we would regale our colleagues and friends with stories from the court. I remember during the final stages of the Shakti Mills trail, several colleagues of mine reporting on other beats, had come to the court to ‘just see’.
Had I seen Court, as against other bollywood movies before I started covering the Mumbai sessions court, I would have been more at ease making the transition into the world of the black coats. Like the act of the Judge, repeating the just concluded arguments of the two lawyers for the stenographer to put in on record bizzarely worked as comic relief when it was screened at the MAMI film festival, so was it a bit amusing in my head when I first entered a courtroom in 2013. As days passed by, I realized how different the actual courts were as compared to their sexed up versions dished out in movies after movies. The heart at the most courtroom movies: drama, is reserved for handful of days in the court; mostly on the days the verdict is pronounced. On most days, the court is like it is in Tamhane’s movie, slow, dreary, confused, boisterous and more than anything a distant soporific hum that continues with robotic monotony.
Such is the monotony, that in the nearly yearlong period that I was reporting on sessions court, I found a familiar cycle in most cases. Most cases began with the accused and family members initially trying to understand every word that their lawyers and judges were saying. However, with the innumerable repetitions of sometimes the same set of facts looked at differently from both sides, slowly but steadily their helplessness induced determination is hacked down by the sheer lifelessness of the trial till they go on auto pilot. They ultimately emerge during the crescendo of final arguments and wait for bated breath for the day of judgement.
To explain how taxing the process is in words itself, the initial stage of the trial, framing of charges, is when the police produces a chargesheet in the court that carries the sections under which a person is to be tried in addition to a detailed account of the crime and the evidence against the accused. This is the point in court, when Vinay Vore (Vivek Gomber) argues before the judge that section 306 (abetment to suicide) of the Indian Penal Code slapped against his client, the folk singer Narayan Kamble (Vira Sathidar) should not be applicable as there was no intention on his part to provoke people to commit suicide. Kamble is arrested after a sewerage worker’s body is found in a manhole. The police allege that Kamble’s ‘inflammatory’ poem ‘exhorting’ sewage workers to commit suicide outside the sewerage worker’s residence, led him to commit suicide two days later.
And since abetment to suicide it is the only charge his client is booked under, Vora asks for his client to be discharged from the case. Like in most court cases, the judge decides to go ahead with the trial and leaving the decision of whether the charge is applicable for a later starge after going through the evidence. What I found is that this stage would tend to get technical as lawyers quibble primarily on technical law points.
Then we come to that part of a trial, which, in movies, is normally seen as the be-all and end-all of all courtroom dramas. The public prosecutor (who represents the state) calls forth witness and then examines them, trying to extract information that can be used as evidence against the accused. Once the prosecutor finishes with his examination, the defence lawyer starts a cross examination or cross- as called in legal lingo – of the witness. Of the few technical glitches that I could spot in the movie as far as court room procedures were concerned, was the one in which the first police witness was not cross examined by Vora.
After the prosecution witness are examined and cross-examined, the trial them moves to 313 – in court lingo – which refers to the recording of the statement of the accused as ordained by section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. While, it seems like an interesting phase, what it is, is, just a rough question – answer format document that the judge reads out before the accused, to which he has to reply in a yes or a no. This stage, in my humble opinion, which has not been shown in the movie, could have been exploited to get us a sneak peek into the mind of Kamble, who gives the impression of a person who has so much to say but has decided to turn his back to the world.
After the final arguments of the two lawyers are over, the judge will then allot a date for pronouncing of judgement. Like any god fearing person I thought that the ‘day of judgement’ was final. But the wheels of judiciary run a tad slower than organized religion. Because while on the day of judgement, the court may pronounce the guilty- not-guilty judgement, the quantum of sentence is still remaining. After the judgement, both sides argue about the quantum of sentence – which in the Shakti Mills gangrape case – stretched for days on end – before the judge on most cases sets another date for the quantum of sentence.
On this date finally, when the judge pronounces the quantum of sentence, you approach the family of the accused – now either a convict or a free man– and one of them will tell you that they will approach the High court and failing which the Supreme court. The cogs of the machinery keep rolling. During the last few scenes of the movie, Vora pays Rs 1,00,000 as bail amount for Kamble. When Kamble – who earns a living by giving tuitions – questions Vora in the hospital about why he paid such a big amount, Vora’s who is also representing him in another case slapped against him by the police, replies, “Now you have just got bail. You case will go on for years. You can repay me the money by then.”