Mumbai, 02 Mar 2022 14:51 IST
The Amitabh Bachchan-starrer is the perfect Hindi debut for the acclaimed filmmaker.
India boasts many sportspersons who make the country proud on the national and international level. But there is also the ‘other India’, which is populated by equally talented youngsters. Unfortunately, they are not considered human, let alone sportspersons, because of their caste and social standing.
Amitabh Bachchan’s character, Vijay Borade, throws light on this India in a monologue in a poignant moment in Nagraj Manjule's Jhund. The soliloquy summarizes the film and its main aim perfectly.
Jhund is a simple story that starts off in a slum near a railway track in Nagpur, Maharashtra. A large group of youngsters hailing from this settlement indulge in petty crimes like stealing coal from passing trains, illegally selling cheap liquor and cannabis and snatching chains. Scuffles among these individuals are not an uncommon sight.
There is a wall that separates the slum and a college attended by kids from rich families. Borade, who resides near the slum, is a football coach there. Taking pity on the underprivileged youngsters, he decides to bring change in their lives by getting them to play football, for which he pays them. The children show a positive response to his attempt. But is it really possible for kids from this world to change their lives for the better?
Before the start of the film, when the Central Board of Film Certification [CBFC] certificate revealed that the film’s duration was 178 minutes, various reactions were heard from the people gathered at the press screening, including this reviewer. But once the film began, many of us didn’t think about the length of the film.
As expected from a filmmaker of Manjule's calibre, the audience is introduced to the street urchins in an unexpected and realistic way but by keeping the proceedings rooted in the mainstream space. Bachchan’s entry too happens when you least expect it.
Football plays a prominent role in Jhund but it wouldn’t be right to label this film a sports drama. The game is just a means to achieve an end: to make a statement about the neglected sections of India. And Jhund succeeds at this in a powerful and moving manner.
The geography of the story is vital to the film's symbolism. The two vastly different worlds exist a few metres away from each other, indicating the situation of India where the haves and have-nots live side by side.
If the writers had ended the film at the interval itself, it would have made sense. At this point you wonder what else could be shown and whether the film will maintain the same tempo. Instead, Manjule kicks it up a notch in the second half, portraying the difficulties of marginalized sections not just in Maharashtra but also in the rest of India. But the film achieves this with subtlety and humour. Some nail-biting events are presented at the end, which helps keep predictability at bay.
The technical department also rises to the occasion, as is the case with every Manjule movie. The film wouldn’t have achieved this result without the fine work of cinematographer Sudhakar Reddy Yakkanti, Majule’s long-time associate. The music and the background score by Ajay Gogawale, Atul Gogawale and Saket Kanetkar add to the excitement.
Mainstream Hindi cinema has a tendency of presenting a watered-down or sanitized version of slums. But Manjule takes you to ground zero when it comes to the living conditions of the long list of characters from these areas.
He has maintained this accuracy even in the casting. It’s impossible to say that these are actors playing slum-dwellers. Ankush Gedam, who plays Ankush aka Don, has an important role and he delivers a superlative performance. Somnath Awghade, who made his debut in Manjule’s maiden feature film Fandry (2014), and the rest of the actors carry out their roles with responsibility. The little kid with long hair is memorable.
Kishore Kadam, Rinku Rajguru and Akash Thosar are also praiseworthy. Chhaya Kadam is noticeable in a role with limited screen time as Bachchan’s wife. Manjule himself shows his acting talent in a cameo.
This is also one of Amitabh Bachchan’s best roles of the decade. His selfless concern and empathy for the kids appear genuine. He shines the most in the aforementioned monologue.
It is difficult to find a major negative point in Jhund. The only issue is that Vijay’s deep concern for the kids appears sudden. It could have been built up. There is also a stretch in the second half where the pace drops.
But Jhund is more memorable for its profound message and memorable frame, which juxtaposes Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar and Bachchan.
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