The stories about police brutality on the marginalized, about the atrocities of the people in power on the weak, on the ostracized need to come up and need to told with all the gutsy fierceness. And the makers of Jai Bhim should definitely be applauded for that. That they brought forward the real life incident so that it could reach out to a much larger audience through the power of cinema. But is that enough to call it great cinema?
Have been hearing about the immediate recall of Vetrimaaran’s terrific film Visaranai on watching Jai Bhim. And one can see why that may be so as one watches the horror of police brutality unfold through Jai Bhim. But unfortunately, it is this very recall that exposes Jai Bhim far more than placing it at par with the earlier film. Visaranai’s treatment remained far more stark, far more grounded with almost a documentary like feel to it, far more intense without resorting to the need to play to the gallery. The Jai Bhim team equates intense with loud, and uses very broad stroke brushes to paint its landscape, where the very core subjects of the film are reduced to helpless and powerless victims, their identity is trivialized even before the conflict starts, and they almost become McGuffins to uniformly project the police force as brutal monsters, and more importantly to glorify the savior, the hero who must hog all the limelight to seek justice for the downtrodden.
Jai Bhim, both in its intent and its treatment somewhere becomes the story of the smart, intelligent and powerful superhero, and how his astute sharpness turns the tables in a courtroom drama where the horrific case would otherwise have been dismissed every single day had the savior not pulled up tricks from his sleeve every now and then. The public prosecutors he is fighting don’t have a single sharp or smart retort and are almost reduced to caricatures. Such is the need to amplify the greatness of the savior that at the end everyone has to recognize his larger than life image of being the protector with folded hands. It could well be possible that Suriya (who has also produced the film), TJ Gnanavel and the rest of the creative team intentionally picked up the louder, more mainstream, more dramatic treatment of the film, rather than keeping it low key with the focus not shifting from the marginalized core, so that Jai Bhim reaches out wider, so that it triggers off more conversations; and may be in that sense they have succeeded to a large extent. But somewhere it does rob the film off all its honesty, somewhere the ‘victims’ and the repeated and amplified montage of the brutality only get ‘used’ to manipulate emotions, and the focus shifting to the glorification of their savior somewhere dilutes the very core impact of the film.
Some of the technical aspects of the film add to this showey treatment, like the too many unnecessary drone shots, some gimmicky camera angles, multiple slo-mo sequences to highlight the arrival of the hero, or at times even the edit to forcefully underline every thought, every emotion, without leaving any space for the film to breathe and the audience to join the dots. The loud background score also accentuates the melodrama at every instance possible. The performances are strong, especially Lijomol Jose, but if browning of the skin is a problem in Hindi films, it is a problem in Tamil cinema as well. Suriya holds ground in the critical scenes, but the constant focus on him only takes away credit from his contribution both as an actor and producer. The character development of public prosecution as well as the brutal and panicked police force remains uniformly one note, and the performance of an actor of Prakash Raj’s calibre comes across as detached.
Jai Bhim is a disturbing watch, but more than what it shows and how it shows it, it leaves you more disturbed with the thought of what it could have achieved with such a strong subject had it stayed more low key tonally and more stark in both intent and execution, and more honest and more dignified towards the marginalized tribal folks giving them their appropriate focus. Vetrimaaran’s classic Visaranai exactly did that, and did that beautifully. Jai Bhim could have, but doesn’t.
Jai Bhim is now playing on Amazon Prime Video.
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