JAI BHIM (2021)

Suriya as Chandru
  • Release Date: 02/11/2021
  • Platform: Amazon Prime Video
  • Cast: Suriya, Lijomol Jose, Prakash Raj, K. Manikandan, Tamizh
  • Director: T. J. Gnanavel

Harrowing in its depiction of police brutality, Jai Bhim is a gruesome and unabashed requiem for the oppressed

— Ambar Chatterjee

Sengani (Lijomol Jose) and Rajakannu (K. Manikandan) are a dirt poor but happily married couple living in a cesspool designated to the lowly Irular class that they belong to in 1990s Tamil Nadu. Sengani is expecting a child and to make their lives better, Rajakannu takes up a job at a nearby brick kiln. Things seem to be going well for the couple. It is at this juncture that disaster strikes and annihilates their peaceful existence. Rajakannu is falsely implicated by the local police in a robbery case and is brutally assaulted.

Sengani sees him in an unimaginably dire state and then after an altercation with the Inspector in charge of the police station, she witnesses her husband being pulled by the hair into what seems to be a torture chamber for facing further horrors. She is shooed off from the police station. That very night, a constable arrives at her dwelling and informs her that her husband along with two of his relatives, who were also incarcerated, escaped from the lockup and were on the run.

Sengani’s hopes soar. She is relieved that her husband has atleast saved himself from the brutal assault of the police officers. Sadly her happiness is soon marred by a feeling of fear and anguish when her husband and the two others neither make it neither back home nor contact their families. She is confident that something is wrong with her husband but she hopes for the best. The police inform her that her husband made way with the stolen jewelry and crossed the border entering the neighboring state. But something tells Sengani that that is not the case. Helpless and out of options, she turns to an idealist, philanthropic activist who also happens to be a seasoned lawyer.

Advocate Chandru (Suriya) takes up Sengani’s case and files a Habeas Corpus petition demanding that police present her husband in court. What happens next not only draws our attention to one of the most sensational outcomes to a case in this country but also sheds light on the gross and extensive human rights abuses that were being systematically meted out to the Irular people of Tamil Nadu.

K. Manikandan as Rajakannu

Jai Bhim is an engrossing film from start to finish. It is the kind of film that can be categorized both as a courtroom drama and as an investigative thriller. T. J. Gnanavel shows us just enough details to make the narrative intelligible and have the necessary impact through the characters but also holds off enough elements from the audience to maintain a sense of surprise and thrill. The result is a narrative that moves ahead at a breakneck speed, is believable, and has a telling impact on the audience’s psyche. This is also because of how the details are revealed and how the various layers of the story are peeled off.

There is a moment in the story when Chandru loses his faith in his clients because of a certain fact that they withheld from him. This fact nearly leads to the case being dismissed. However, when he is pursued to look deeper into the same lead, it not only gives him a better grasp of the established narrative of the police but also steers the entire story in a whole new direction. The screenplay of Jai Bhim is peppered with numerous such twists and turns all throughout and changes its nature every 20-30 minutes. This aspect of the film makes it even more entertaining.

Suriya is a leading man who has been synonymous with steering films singlehandedly with his performances and Jai Bhim will be another worthy addition to that list. There isn’t a single scene where we see him smile. His character lives in such a demented world and witnesses such unheard off plights and atrocities being committed that he is completely drained out of any happiness or quirk. Even when he is able to accomplish something for the oppressed, we see a sense of peace and conviction on his face rather than happiness or joy. Every mannerism of his feels aligned with what is going on in his psyche and he presents a kind of picture of the character that most people will be able to identify and associate with. His monologues are subtle but they speak volumes. His sudden and yet calculated outbursts are inspiring. Suffice is to say that he anchors the entire film on his performances and holds the entire narrative together giving it the emotional and dramatic tone that forms the basis of the film’s drama.

Lijomol Jose is the next best thing about the film. Her rendition of Sengani is one of the closest that I have seen an actress play a tribal character. She depicts the inhibitions, the horrors, and the bottled-up aggression of a woman who has been violently wronged and has been made to suffer for no fault of hers with unimaginable power and conviction. It may be added that I was immediately hooked by her performance and could practically feel the pain and suffering of the character. This made the narrative of the film even more relevant and unbearably tense for me at many junctures. Due credit has to be given to Lijomol Jose for her sensational rendition of the character with a penchant for keeping things as realistic as possible.

Lijomol Jose as Sengani

Jai Bhim will be a difficult film for many to sit through. It is unabashed in its depiction of violence. The torture scenes are gut-wrenching and the director milks the last ounce of drama from a very important sequence that will put some of the most horrific torture sequences in films to shame owing to its gritty and stomach-churning realism and impact. The scene where we see the police molest a woman sent shivers down my spine. I haven’t seen something this brutal and demeaning in a long time in a mainstream film. The violence is not only displayed with a no holds barred attitude but is rendered more effective as the film forges a connection between the audiences and the characters from the very beginning. This makes the torture that is meted out to the same characters even more unbearable and nearly unwatchable.

Jai Bhim is right up there with the very best in terms of execution, technicalities, and rendering faithfully the period that it is set in. The film looks gorgeous and is beautifully shot. Be it the torture chambers of the police station or the well-lit and revered courtroom, the cinematography of the film instills a sense of beauty, grit, realism, and atmospheric feel with its rendition of the director’s vision of the film. The background score is apt and only adds to the drama of certain sequences by elevating the already prevalent feel. I loved the editing of the film. Be it the in-sequence cut-to-cut editing or the sequence–to–sequence editing, Philomin Raj does a fantastic job of keeping a steady pace and at the same time giving enough time to absorb what is put on the screen. The film stands at around 2 hours and 43 minutes and still feels like a film that is 2 hours long. That is how thrilling and lightning-fast it is in its execution.

My only issue with the film was it’s muddled messaging. With a name like “Jai Bhim”, I was confident that the film would concentrate on the power of the constitution and the judiciary and that it does but there is a constant undercurrent of communist propaganda that confused me and made me ask the question should the film be called “Jai Bhim” or “Jai Marx”. B.R Ambedkar despised communists and their ideology and wrote openly about his opinion of them. Thus, in my opinion, it was not right to slap communist propaganda with such ferocity on a film that is called Jai Bhim and is about the power of the constitution, the judiciary, and how the two gives people (subjugated for generations) the right to live their lives in a manner befitting of humans.

For everything else, I loved Jai Bhim and have already watched it thrice. I am confident that I will watch it a few more times before I am done with it and its many nuances and elements.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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