‘Jhund’ movie review: Beyond the walls of social divide

A still from ‘Jhund’

A still from ‘Jhund’

Providing a level playing field to invisible India, Nagraj Manjule’s  Jhund takes us beyond the ‘wall of social divide’ to a ghetto where life is a struggle for survival. Inspired by the story of a real-life football coach Vijay Barse, who uplifted slum children through football and launched the concept of slum soccer, Nagraj has used his lived Dalit experience to make a sensitive statement on the need to bridge the social faultlines, without applying any sugar coating.

It is not as wholesome as his previous success stories,  Fandry and  Sairat, but the social drama deserves to be experienced for its sheer grit and ability to look into the eye of a festering social problem.

In fact, the mere act of staring is the real obstacle in the film. When an upper caste boy stares at the Dalit in the latter’s territory, he considers it as an act of questioning his existence; but when the Dalit stares back at the well-endowed in his space, it is taken as an offence for registering his presence.

Usually in commercial cinema, Dalit characters are whipped to manipulate emotions in favour of the upper caste or casteless saviour in the name of poetic justice. The proximity between the two is often as much as a politician having food with a Dalit during the election season.

The so-called parallel cinema, on the other hand, white-washes Dalits so much that it robs them of the social and psychological warts that have become part of their identity after centuries of otherisation. Here, Manjule keeps it raw and realistic as the camera tracks the anguish in Ankush Mashram’s eyes. But at the same time, it provides a rousing background sound to the Dalit hero, that is often reserved for the upper-class protagonist in the popular Hindi cinema.

At one point, Mashram starts sounding like Mishra. The ambiance of  jhopad patti, the residence of ragpickers, has a lot of plastic strewn around, but there is no designer display of poverty.

Making smart use of symbolism to capture the trenchant urge for dignity and agency among Dalits, Manjule captures the youth dancing in abandon to the DJ music in front of the photo of B. R. Ambedkar, whose image is hard to find even in the background of a frame of a Hindi film. The sequence ends with the biggest icon of Bollywood bowing to the Dalit icon.

At the same time, he places a Dalit shopkeeper who is not too keen to invest in this unreflective display of Dalit power and puts his hand up only when he sees the possibility of a real change. The most effective use of visual metaphor for change comes through in the climax when Ankush passes successfully through a metal detector.

The pace is uneven and it appears Manjule doesn’t believe in using scissors. It takes time to get used to the mood, but gradually it occurs to us that the film’s technical grammar is in sync with the lives it is depicting; a meandering urge to get out of the rabbit hole where crime often becomes a compulsion and drugs an escape from reality.

For instance, the scenes where the slum dwellers discover that they are Indian and that they need papers to prove their identity are tackled as mundanely as it perhaps happens in life. Casting non-actors helps in generating the atmosphere and a sense of intimacy. 

If the story is about a Vijay who is keen to change the world around him, who could be a better choice than Amitabh Bachchan, the original Vijay? Bachchan drops his mannerisms and baritone to play a determined football coach who uses the beautiful game to change the lives of the slum boys. To his credit, he doesn’t look like the odd man out among the cast of non-actors.

However the storytelling could have been tighter and a little more subtle, and Vijay’s character could have been a little more layered. His speech in the courtroom takes away some of the impact of all the unsaid that Manjule had captured till then. So does the surrogate advertisement of an airline. But then these are the dangers when you walk on the wall that separates commerce from art.

Jhund is currently playing in theatres

Our code of editorial values

Related Topics
  1. Comments will be moderated by The Hindu editorial team.
  2. Comments that are abusive, personal, incendiary or irrelevant cannot be published.
  3. Please write complete sentences. Do not type comments in all capital letters, or in all lower case letters, or using abbreviated text. (example: u cannot substitute for you, d is not 'the', n is not 'and').
  4. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.
  5. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name, to avoid rejection.

Printable version | Mar 8, 2022 5:29:51 pm |