Mumbai, 16 Oct 2017 11:30 IST
Updated: 07 Feb 2018 13:06 IST
Directed by Miransha Naik, the film is a sensitive tale of exploitation of immigrant labourers in Goa, narrated through the eyes of a teenage student.
It has become traditionally accepted to view Goa as an idyllic haven of Indian beatniks and drunkards. However, in the past couple of years, the Konkani film industry has seen the rise of a new generation of filmmakers telling stories that are born, bred, and seeped in the realities of this region. Miransha Naik's dark film Juze is one such.
Juze revolves around the life of Santosh (Rushikesh Naik), a teenage student living in a slum in Borimol village in the early 1990s. The slum is run under the strong, imperious hand of Juze, the slumlord. Each of the characters in the film hates Juze but cannot escape him and the slum for fear of uncertainty. It is this fear that leads them further and further down dark paths.
Santosh, a brilliant student, has not given up on his fate. He is not the meek victim, or the angry young man, just a cynical teenager who has grown up too soon. His grandmother Tai (Prashanti Talpankar) harbours some hope for him. But in front of Juze, whose beatings are the only things keeping Santosh in line, she remains helpless.
The director allows Juze, the eponymous villain of the film, to wander around the stories of his characters, intervening every time anyone steps out of line. He is lecherous, violent, drunk and apathetic to the lives of the people he uses as slaves. Santosh's problems are compounded when he is used as a sexual object by Juze's wife (Gauri Kamat) in Juze's absence.
In all this, the only hope the young boy has is Maya (Barkha Naik), a student in his school. But even she loses interest in him once she realizes the hopelessness of the situation. It becomes the moment of catharsis for Santosh who decides to take matters into his hands.
Director Miransha Naik does well to eschew melodrama while showing life in these hovels. Even the moments of Santosh's sexual abuse are shown with simple tracking shots. They quite simply appear as a chore that he has got used to. But in all these, the film never meanders into too a dark territory.
The film creates a litany of characters that are struggling to escape their lives, and go through their own strange rites of passage. In doing so, it neither questions nor condones the judgements of these people. The dialogue, brusque, sharp, and witty in Konkani, keeps the spark alive throughout.
Rushikesh Naik as Santosh is brilliant and delivers a fine performance as the disinterested but optimistic young man. Barkha Naik is another wonderful performer who brings out the ambitious, daring Maya to life. But it is Juze around whom the film revolves. Played by Sudesh Bhise, it is hard to empathize with him, but even he is not spared of being cheated (once by the quiet Abdul, and another time by his wife). In the end, it is hard to define if Juze was the reason for the oppression in the slum, or the slum for Juze's violent streak.
Speaking after the screening of the film, director Miransha Naik mentioned that the film was the story of his own village. He delivers a film that raises several uncomfortable questions about life behind Goa's sheen. The incomplete ending either implies a happy new beginning for Santosh, or a spiral that will take him further down the same road. It is this uncertainty that builds the film.
Juze is a wonderful addition to films that give hope to a future generation of filmmakers.
Juze was screened at the 19th MAMI Mumbai Film Festival on 14 October 2017.