JANA GANA MANA (2022)

Prithviraj Sukumaran in a still
  • Release Date: 28/04/2022
  • Platform: Netflix
  • Cast: Prithviraj Sukumaran, Suraj Venjaramoodu, Mamta Mohandas
  • Director: Dijo Jose Antony

Jana Gana Mana is a masterclass in how to effectively sell malicious propaganda

— Ambar Chatterjee

Saba Mariam (Mamta Mohandas), a popular teacher among her students at Central University is brutally raped, murdered, and then burnt. A lone man who meets with an accident nearby to the sight of this heinous crime witnesses four individuals burning the body. The students at the Central University are enraged at this brutal crime perpetrated against one of their favorite teachers and start a widespread protest. Soon the matter gets out of hand and the government decides to bring a highly decorated officer, ACP Sajjan Kumar (Suraj Venjaramoodu) to solve the case and nab the culprits. 

Sajjan Kumar delivers on his promise and nabs the four murderers within a month. However, things don’t go according to plan for Sajjan Kumar, and it becomes apparent to him that the killers might just walk free or get reduced sentences for their crimes. After a lot of soul searching, he decides to take the matter into his own hands and shoots down the four killers in an encounter. The nation is euphoric about it and applauds Sajjan and his team for delivering swift justice. 

As is always the case, the Human Rights Commission launches an investigation into the killings against Sajjan and his team and appoints Aravind Swaminathan (Prithviraj Sukumaran) as their advocate. Once Aravind starts pulling layer after layer from the case —- that looked deceptively simple on the surface but was a lot more complicated —- it becomes apparent that all is not well and Sajjan and his team might not have killed the right people. What happens next is what Jana Gana Mana is all about. 

I am in awe of how wonderfully Dijo Jose Antony camouflaged malicious propaganda and presented it in a manner that would appeal to even the most dismissive of viewers. The visual representation of the protests in the university is eerily similar to the optics of the protests that we all saw plastered across media at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Jamia Millia Islamia University (JMI). What Antony’s manipulation lies in is the fact that the protests in the film occur as a result of the rape and murder of a pristine and inspiring professor and the lack of action to bring the culprits to justice on the part of the University Management and law enforcement. By doing this Antony is able to throw in a common cause that most thinking and righteous individuals will agree with. Intelligently, he juxtaposes the optics of the JNU and JMI protests on the righteous fictitious cause and thereby try to justify the actions of the students of JMI and JNU who were protesting for not-so-noble causes during the CAA riots. 

Suraj Venjaramoodu in a still

It took me a while to see through this subtle propaganda but once I did, I was in awe of Antony’s brilliance to sell his propaganda dressed like lessons of morality. It was like planting a seed of an idea in the minds of the unassuming viewers and justifying everything wrong in the protests at the different universities by sanitizing their actions with a fictional cause and putting enough doubts in the minds of the viewers to question whether the students were right or wrong. Antony also smartly brings back memories of the infamous Hyderabad veterinary doctor gang rape and murder case and uses it further to ascertain and hammer in the already present realism in the narrative. What is wonderful to note is how efficiently he weaves the case into his fictional story.

Once the basic premise is set, Antony uses the story to raise issues like caste discrimination, dirty politics, political violence, and brainwashing of the youth and also highlights the extent politicians are willing to go to get what they want. Sadly, he takes a one-sided approach to these aspects of the story and in every aspect of his story, the villain is evidently the Hindu elite upper class. One look at the villains and you know which party Antony is referring to. After a while, this does get repetitive and even caricaturish. It feels even more over the top when issues like demonetization are brought up through the dialogues of the villain who goes on to say that if the need be he will even take away the voting rights of the people. This just goes on to show the amount of hatred that Antony holds in his heart for the current in-power political party and the expression of that hatred is pronounced and very unsubtle.

A story like this would never have had the kind of impact that it does, had it not been for the performances. The ensemble cast of the film is fantastic. It is led from the front by a towering Prithviraj Sukumaran who powers his way through the entire second half and the court case as if it was one long monologue and that is exactly what it is. While the court case is one of the most outlandish depictions of a court case ever put to film in India, it never for a second feels that way as Prithviraj Sukumaran completely envelops our senses and makes us take note of every word that he mouths. He complements that with equally poignant and powerful expressions and the compounded effect of that is a rendition that is as inspiring as it is haunting. From the way the film ends, it is apparent that there will definitely be a sequel to this film and that will most definitely reveal the back story of the character of Prithviraj Sukumaran. 

Suraj Venjaramoodu as ACP Sajjan Kumar is sensational. I wasn’t expecting his character to go the way it does, and it came as an absolute shock for me. Even with the character going in a totally different direction, Suraj Venjaramoodu maintains an unprecedented hold on the audience. I say this because I wanted to hate his character in the end, but I just couldn’t as his rendition of the character was so authoritative. The director does provide his character with some redemption in the end but that was not enough to undo all that he had done. Having said that, there was still something very likable about the man and that was also one of the biggest pulls for the character. 

A poster of the film featuring the female characters

Mamta Mohandas appears as a pristine angel from time to time and adds a much-needed benevolence and heart to the narrative. She looks and feels like the kind of teacher for whom the students would go to any lengths. It isn’t easy to portray a character like this, but Mamta Mohandas not only nails every aspect of the character but also makes it her own with her soulful rendition of some of the most heart-warming moments that the character has. It must be noted that these moments also happen to be the only heart-warming moments of the film and while some of it was questionable, they mostly worked because of Mohandas’s performance in these moments.

No matter how much I disagree with the politics, one-sided ideology, and Hindu bashing of Dijo Jose Antony, I have to admit that he has created an endlessly entertaining, gripping, and compelling drama that will not only envelop the senses of its viewers but will also inspire them to bask in the glory of Antony’s one-sided outlook and perspective on things. I have no complaints about that as it is his film, and he is free to make a film in whatever way he likes. The nationalist filmmakers need to take notice and cognizance of his art and understand how far the left has progressed in terms of pushing their message through cinema, art, and literature. They must understand how it is key to make an aesthetically and cinematically brilliant film even if you are trying to push a one-sided message with it.  

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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