Nagraj Manjule is back and this time he is telling us unknown stories of courage via his first Hindi film Jhund that was released on 4th of March, 2022. Nagraj is known to portray people in the most sensitive way and his movies have had top class cinematography, music. This time, the story is based on the people in slums in Nagpur who learnt the game of football through Vijay Barse, famous football coach from Nagpur.
Having watched the movie a few times, I would like to share some observations.. And the beauty of Nagraj’s work is that it can have different meanings for different people.. He evokes senses and imaginations that way. It is difficult to write about the movie in one article, however I will try to keep it short and there are a few minor spoilers in the write up below.
The movie is about people and not soccer
The people shown are a mix of people across religions. There are Muslim characters, Sikh characters (most probably from the lower castes). There are characters from Haryana, from West Bengal, from Kerala, from the North East etc. People are shown having inherent goodness and respect for each other. There is respect for women in the locality. For example, the sequence where Don supports Razia when she is abused by her husband. In fact, there are several layers in the story and several themes going around in the background.
No saviour syndrome
Even though Amitabh’s character Vijay Barse is the coach, but nowhere is he shown as a saviour. He is more of a catalyst. Nowhere does he teach the people any ethics or morality. In fact the movie doesn’t allow Amitabh’s character to overshadow or overpower the movie. Nowhere is there a need for him to correct them. This is refreshing to see especially after watching movies steeped in the saviour syndrome, like Article 15.
There is a lot of camaraderie shown among people in the film. They do have differences with each other, they fight , they argue but they stick together in spite of all differences. In the football match, the community comes along and supports the team when they score/save a goal. There is genuine support and joy for each other’s journeys. Be it the struggle for getting a passport, or the agony of missing out a berth. As it’s shared sorrow and joy which is what fraternity is all about. Men, women, kids across ages, religions dance on the Ambedkar Jayanti celebrations. Even the jokes, humour used is genuine, natural and never below the belt.
Dignity of characters
There are different sets of people in the film. But everyone is portrayed in a very dignified manner. There are people who are physically disabled but nowhere does Nagraj show them in a way that evokes pity or direct any laughter towards them. Those characters are seamlessly integrated into the movie. Same with the case of the drunk character who starts practicing with them & assimilates. There is an endearing sequence of featuring the character played by Rinku Rajguru and her father that many of us can relate to. Their entire conversation, in a language from a remote corner of the state, is done without subtitles. It shows how we as a society are not even aware of their existence.
There is a wonderful scene where the Haryana girl’s grandmother tells the family to arrange for money somehow or sell something so that the girl Bobby can travel for the tournament.
The film records natural growth of the characters: it’s more like a journey of self-realisation, as they find their purpose in life.
There is no clear negative character. Even the government officials, police who initially don’t support the team – they eventually come around. People are shown as inherently good. In fact, it is the system & structures which are questioned.
Performances of lead actors & the supporting cast
Lead actors like Ankush Gedam (Don) & Vijay Barse ( Amitabh) shine in the movie.
There are some terrific performances from the supporting cast. Special mention of the actors who played Babu, Imran, Raziya, Kartik (the kid who asks what Bharat means), the red haired Chahcha, and Jerry should be made; along with Rinku Rajguru, Kishore Kadam, and even Nagraj Manjule who played key roles.
Even the actors who get screen space for 1-2 scenes leave a mark.
Sound & Cinematography
Special mention of Sudhakar Yakanti & Avinash Sonawane for cinematography & sound respectively. They elevate the film exceptionally. Be it the the last shot of the plane taking off or the sequences in the football match to the chase sequences or the scenes at the airport: they are a delight to watch.
Nowhere in the movie Jhund, does Nagraj tell us the caste locations of the characters. The surnames of only three characters are revealed viz. Don, Imran and Rinku. Don’s surname is Masram. Now in Vidarbha area, the Masrams are Scheduled Tribes and not Scheduled Castes.
So it is a pretty heterogenous set of people without laying too much emphasis on caste.. Don says Jai Bhim, so does Nagraj (Hitler) though they aren’t Dalits or Ambedkarites. The surnames or religious affiliations of other characters are never known. Nagraj leaves it to the imagination of the audience for interpretation.
Now all this is important and significant.. As Nagraj doesn’t want to make it only about Dalits in the community but about collective growth. So it narrates a story about triumph of the human spirit. He doesn’t want people to say ‘A Dalit community is always like that in slums’. It doesn’t say that the it depicts only ‘Ambedkarites’: those who come together to celebrate Ambedkar Jayanti want to share life and happiness together. So it avoids deploying any Ambedkarite lens. It is surprising to see in social media that some people are not getting their basics right when they view the film critically and say that it’s not showing Ambedkarites in the right way.
The story is about just one slum & not all slums, bastis of Nagpur. It is the story of people like Akhilesh Paul (the person on whom the character Don is based). People outside Nagpur, Vidarbha may not know these dynamics of the region.
The connection with Dr. Ambedkar’s words on humantiy
Jhund finishes after the plane takes off. That’s it. It doesn’t tell you what happens later. Even when the national football tournament is organised, nothing much is shown in terms of scores or technical details. The gaze is always on the people playing the sport from various teams.. Even after the flight, the camera zooms in on the football field indicating continuation..?
Now why does Nagraj end it after the flight takes off? Because for him that entire journey, the story of coming to board a flight is a victory in itself for those people. It is a humungous task for the people involved to come up to that. It is similar to the struggles of several marginalised sections. Availing reservations and getting a job, admission itself is a remarkable achievement. Because so many things go into these struggles. Several people are involved behind them. Nagraj makes you think it could be your own father/mother, like Rinku’s father in the movie, who stands shoulder to shoulder despite of lack of resources and setbacks.
For many Bahujans, surviving a day, earning your daily bread and supporting your family is in itself a revolution. So do not underestimate that. Many times we get into guilt trap of availing reservations and then in the mind trying to prove our existence to the outside world. What Manjule does is to ensure we realise that getting that going the distance itself is remarkable. What Nagraj is doing is giving dignity to human existence in the first place.
The movie is the closest ever example of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s words” ‘Ours is a battle not for wealth or for power. It is a battle for freedom. It is a battle for the reclamation of human personality.’
It is the human personality that is claimed here. This was like a moment of realisation for me. Do not undermine your stories, your people that helped you get those limited opportunities. Sometimes surviving every day is a miracle, while you earn your bread by working tirelessly as a fisherman, labourer or at any other job to support your existence. Your existence as a human itself is questioned on a daily basis. So even claiming and getting your existence in various forms is following Babasaheb. It is a path towards human dignity in this caste mode of production.
This is the most profound personal observation on Jhund that I could think of. Beyond all the songs, the dances, the football, the coach, the slums. And I want to thank Nagraj for this. Want to hug him for this. Keep doing this Nagraj as this is our journey.
JS Vinay is interested in the Anti-Caste movement, Food and Movies.
Picture courtesy: the internet.