Jai Bhim is a journey towards social justice.
The travel from a small, claustrophobic thatched roof dwelling, where one’s head will hit the ceiling, to the all important high court justice room, where there is lot of space and a high ceiling, symbolically depicts the victim’s journey towards freedom. In the process, the movie reveals the various layers in the legal system in great detail, from the village panchayat officer at the grass roots to the constables to the head constables to the SI to the inspector to the SP to the DGP to the public prosecutor to the Advocate General to the Judges. Through this revelation, it exposes how the society and the justice system fall prey to ‘power’. Finally, it helps the audience to understand what is social justice and how certain sections of the society are marginalized from society & from justice.
First of all, the title design was brilliant. Simply brilliant. Wow!
Manikandan as Rasakannu, Lejumol as Chengani, Tamizh as Sub Inspector Gurumoorthi, Prakashraj as IG Perumalsaami and Suriya as Advocate Chandru deliver riveting performances. For Suriya to enter the film little later and that too without heroine, songs, fight scenes etc, calls for supreme confidence in himself. I was particularly impressed with his body language which he might have worked hard to avoid getting into his earlier templates.
The lock up room was scary. The costumes looked rugged unlike other films where the shirts, however rural styled, will still look new (even though Tamil films were never as bad as Aamir Khan wearing a starched shirt in a Rajasthan village in Lagaan). Also, the make-up work on Manikandan was quite good unlike Visaranai where the details were not handled properly.
Also, the exchanges between the judges, the exchanges between Adv. Chandru & the public prosecutor and most importantly, the sarcastic humour ingrained in the dialogues in those scenes were lively. It presented a new dimension that I have not seen in any movie before.
One of my favorite scenes in the film is when Suriya compiles a list of phone numbers, calls every number and finally finds out that the call to the rice-mill owner, an important witness, came from a phone booth in Kerala. It shows the detail, diligence and hard work required to succeed in life situations. It is easy to focus on only heroic and creative scenes to create the drama but it needs to be balanced with practical work too. I liked this scene a lot. Another great scene is when the assistant of IG Perumalaami says that the community is full of habitual offenders. Suriya shoots back ‘Which community doesn’t have offenders? Don’t generalize”. It is a very powerful message because this generalization is the root cause of many of the societal evils.
Most importantly, the film presents a real life, inspirational advocate as the ‘hero’ and a positive role model for the larger audience. Movies have such a strong influence in Tamil society. Heroes with sickles and doing rowdyism is quite common in most movies. Drinking and smoking along with eve-teasing are common ‘hero’ behaviours in Tamil movies. Suriya has broken this trend with back to back inspirational biographies — first with Captain Gopinath’s aviation success story through Soorarai Potru and now, with this role of human rights advocate Justice Chandru. This is a welcome trend.
It is important to take such stories to the larger audience purely because of the educational value inherent in such films. Before this film, I wasn’t sure which court room is the real one, whether it is the ones with the cages shown in the films of the 80s or the more realistic ones showed in recent films. Through this film, I learned several things 1. What is habeus corpus? How many of us know the difference between HC and a normal petition before watching this film? 2. The difference between a high court and a lower court. Most importantly, why do they exist? 3. The importance of evidence and how outdated the police methodologies are to bring out the truth from the suspected criminal.
The two judges in the high court symbolically represent the two eyes of social justice. One eye enforces the law and the other eye upholds the law. One eye, police, works IN the system. The other eye, judiciary, works ON the system. The two judges talking to each other, consulting each other and speaking in turns, symbolize how both the police and judiciary need to work together. However, there is a contrasting reality. One eye represents good and another eye represents evil. There is no communication that exists between two good players in that system. It takes so much effort for Chandru and Perumalsaami to come together but it is so easy for everyone in the corrupt system to come together. The -good- is a broken system. The evil system talks and communicates beautifully among themselves, consults each other and helps each other.
While the sub-inspector character is evil, there is also a question of why this evil side emerges in a human being who is supposed to uphold law. What are the options available in front of a junior officer in such a situation? He gets extreme pressure from the top management and from the political system. The options in front of him are to torture and extract the truth or torture and force them to accept the crime. Even a senior police officer in the film, IG Perumalsaami, believes that it is okay to ‘torture’ a little bit to extract the truth. How can the police training be reformed? How can we bring in scientific techniques to train the police? In addition, the power difference is not only between police and the tribals. The power difference is evident at every level between the SI and the constables, the head constable who wakes up the junior constables at night and scolds them, the SP and the SI, the advocate general and the DGP. There is no ‘equality’ within the system and outside the system. The real question is ‘where does this inequality originate?’.
Jai Bhim successfully combines a sensitive subject with a mass hero in a compelling crime thriller style storytelling. The storytelling and the screenplay made it a very compelling watch and the narrative didn’t lose steam throughout which is commendable. This mass market appeal ensured that this is commercially viable also unlike Visaranai or any earlier attempts which was reserved purely for awards and a niche audience. I have seen an amazing Marati film ‘Court’ which I consider as one of the finest movies ever made in India. But I am pretty sure that the movie would not watched by most people in India. It appealed to my sensibilities — wide shots, slow pace and no hysteria or drama. I would love to see more such movies and in pure cinematic excellence, Jai Bhim is not a classic in any way. It is a decent film with hysteria coming through BGM and drama coming in the form of the Hero leading everything.
A star like Suriya, who is also a commendable social worker because of his work through his Agaram foundation, makes the experience entertaining and believable. It is a huge risk for him because he will lose his unique positioning in the commercial market because people will want to see him only in these kind of films in the future. At the end of the day, there is big money involved and the investors need to be satisfied too. There are some areas, most notably the Shankar movie style BGM & too much heroism, which could have been handled better. The sharp bifurcation of good and bad characters is something that I dont enjoy but to take a film to large audiences, they have to make the tradeoffs. This film had the potential to be a world class film but the makers settled for the ‘good enough’. However, I give this film a big thumbs up for its ability to educate, to expose and most importantly, to entertain the larger audience.
Social justice is always a work in progress. So is cinematic excellence.