Vetrimaaran’s ‘Visaranai’ (2015), the scenes of custodial torture and the sad end would have left you numb.
Add a saviour who tries to give justice to the families of the dead, you get ‘Jai Bhim’.
Based on a true story, TJ Gnanavel’s film is about what happens when Rajakannu, a man from the Irula tribe (played by Manikandan), is slapped with a wrong case of theft, taken to the police station, and tortured along with two others from the community.
All of them go missing, and Rajakannu’s wife Sengani (Lijo Mol Jose) runs from pillar to post in search of him. She is backed by a lawyer, Chandru (Suriya), who takes up the case pro-bono and does whatever it takes, with a Habeas Corpus petition, to expose the criminals.
Irulas are a tribal community of rat and snake catchers from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The movie shows their way of life. The prejudices surrounding them are depicted vividly.
The extremely violent custodial torture scenes, that too of women who were arrested by male cops, make for an uncomfortable watch.
The ensuing courtroom drama and investigation process is an edge-of-the-seat portion. Suriya, who is in fine form here, is aided by sharp dialogues.
At one place though, the script goes a bit overboard. The lawyer compares Sengani’s petition to the Tamil epic Silapathikaram and her to the legendary Kannagi, the heroine of the epic who protested the killing of her husband and cursed the society because of which Madurai supposedly burned to the ground.
Lilo Mol Jose, Manikandan, Suriya and Prakash Raj deliver excellent performances. Music, from Sean Roldan, is impressive.
At two hours and 45 minutes, the film is overlong. Tighter editing could have made the film more gripping. The idea of saviour complex could have been toned down to deliver the message more strongly.
Many things in the movie could have a lasting impact on us. The children who roam inside the courtroom, the girl child of Rajakannu who learns to read and write and more. The scene after the judgement is powerful as well. Sengani is sitting outside the court, with her child, watching the rain, as if to say that what happened inside the court doesn’t matter to her anymore as there is nothing more to be gained.
The movie is named ‘Jai Bhim’ – it is based on the real-life lawyer’s allegiance to B R Ambedkar’s principles, and supposed to serve as a backdrop for the underlying fight for equality the movie has. But it doesn’t come across exclusively as that Therefore, ‘Jai Bhim’ feels like a clickbait title mainly because the community covered is scheduled tribe and not scheduled caste. Also, ‘Jai Bhim’ is an activistic slogan, appropriated these days by politicians, amid the clamour among parties to pocket Dalit vote bank. Did the makers want to cash in on Ambedkarite sentiments with this title?
Nevertheless, the producer duo of Suriya-Jyothika and directer Gnanavel deserve applause for making a mainstream movie with a difference. The movie is available in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam on Amazon Prime. it on the biggest screen available for the best experience.