Noted Malayalam filmmaker Lijo Jose Pellissery‘s recent film Jallikattu got released on digital within a month of its theatrical release, and though the dazzling film is crafted in a way to be best consumed at the cinemas, this quick digital release will definitely help it to reach far and wide to many who have been wanting to experience the film, given the interest it has already generated with its critical acclaim and positive word of mouth. In fact there is much to learn from Malayalam and Tamil cinema how well integrated is their digital strategy in the overall distribution planning of their films, which has helped them to move ahead of the curve to gain much wider national/global following and appreciation. Jallikattu is no exception.
Watching Jallikattu has been an experience in itself, and the film is an absolute sensory overdrive given its shot compositions and framing, colour grading and more importantly sound design and background score. Telling a story of man versus beast and completely subverting the usual instincts associated with them, LJP and his technical team want to expose the suppressed primal instincts of humans and how, unlike animals, they are always in the lookout to satisfy and massage their selfish intent and egoistic masculinity by crafting a ruckus as a herd and completely breaking down any sanity of social order. All this is achieved through a masterfully mounted film, where each frame is like a portrait of chaos, and where each sound beat is implanted to trigger adrenaline rush. In their individual capacity, each of the technical departments from camera to sound to editing board stand tall and definitely deserve all the appreciation. The opening scene of the film itself tells yo that this is going to be something that you haven’t seen before, and hooks you in to the screens for the magic to overwhelm you.
However, put it all together, Jallikattu as a film it did not work for me. To me, the entire film is too orchestrated – the chaos overall seems too designed. Every episode or sequence in the film is like a staged set piece to show off the technical brilliance of sound and light. The rawness and the cruelty is too spectacular to pierce beyond the sensory appeal. The underlying subtext of exposing the beast within man is established fairly early, and after that it is a stretched and repeated exposition of the same by multiple variations of scattered subplots dealing with varied dark shades of primal instincts and inhumanity. Even at ninety minutes, the film’s ornamental weight and cyclic commotion starts to tire one down beyond a point.
I understand what the director’s audacious vision was, and the film’s execution is hand in glove with its intent. Jallikattu is supposed to thrive on a screenplay driven by cinematic craft rather than a deep dive of character journeys, but I prefer films where there is scope for individual character development that takes you along into their lives. Cinema where everything around is so intentionally loud, unnatural or cosmetic somehow fades away quickly for me after the initial wow. Even the ‘put on’ background score is designed to raise goosebumps by being different and mechanized, and it does, but after a point it began to disturb my viewing experience more than being truly disturbing.
A premise like Jallikattu certainly cannot be subtle and no one is expecting it to be so; but the chaos still needs to feel organic, the characters still need to feel rooted to the local milieu, and almost every actor around certainly does not need to ham around in glory just because the loose script allows for that leeway. LJP achieved that brilliantly both in Ee.Ma.Yau as well as Angamaly Diaries – both those films also thrive on their chaotic energy driven by technical craft; but they equally shine in their writing, in the detailing of their characters, in integrating the local colours, and in leaving a scope for thoughts and subtext to breathe within the viewer. I found that emotional finesse and thoughtfulness missing in Jallikattu. In one scene towards the end of the film, LJP even forcefully introduces the completely unnecessary caveman shot to hammer down the point of inherent savageness of man. That was the last nail for me to rob the film off anything left to interpretation, and the filmmaker’s lack of trust on the audience to see and feel beyond the film’s breathless spectacle left me disappointed.
I know this is a minority perspective quite unlike the overall sense of awe and appreciation that Jallikattu has mostly received, somewhat like how the trapped bull possibly saw the entire situation in a different light and according to his sensibilities. But then Lijo Jose Pellissery only encourages us to see that and makes us appreciate that there is a place for all kinds of points of view even in the most frenzied ecosystem. It all depends on where are you seeing it from and what are you seeking.