Jai Bhim movie review: Suriya leads a decisively realistic courtroom drama that reflects contradictions Ambedkar spoke of

Suriya's film beautifully shoulders the responsibility of being a decisively realistic, social, issue-based drama without being preachy

Ashameera Aiyappan November 01, 2021 12:01:26 IST

4/5

In his last speech to the Constituent Assembly, BR Ambedkar observed that India as a republic 'would enter into a life of contradictions'. He believed that while we will be equals in politics (one man, one vote, one value) we will deny that equality in our economic and social life, thanks to the structures in place. Ambedkar strongly believed that as long as one doesn't achieve social liberty, the freedom provided by the law is of no use to you. Several decades later, the words still hold extreme significance as we struggle to achieve that mandate. Suriya’s latest release, appropriately titled Jai Bhim, reflects the contradictions Ambedkar speaks of and the harrowing trauma that follows. The film sees Suriya play Advocate Chandru who fights a legal battle for Sengeni (Lijomol Jose), a tribal woman whose family is subjected to brutal custodial torture.

Jai Bhim is hard-hitting and intense. Unlike most commercial star vehicles, the film is decisively realistic. It tells a deeply important story with great nuance, ensuring that the people are not reduced to stereotypes.

The film beautifully shoulders the responsibility of being a social, issue-based drama without being preachy. The writing is powerful and incisive. But amid the big hits, the film cares enough to package the smaller smiles. It paints a complete picture.

 (Also read on Firstpost: Suriya on bringing Justice K Chandru's life to reel with Jai Bhim: 'He is a change-maker, a beautiful disruptor')

Jai Bhim gives us one of the most progressive protagonists in recent times. (The film is based on the life of Justice Chandru). But what makes it truly unique is that it refuses to make Chandru a messiah of the downtrodden. While our star vehicles are usually committed to making their protagonists demi-gods, this legal drama steers clear of hero worship. Similar to Soorarai Pottru, Jai Bhim's universe is filled with strong characters. It is encouraging to see Suriya continue to back narratives that steer away from being the commercial hero-centric template. It signals a secure actor and star who doesn't shy away from sharing his spotlight. And this is a heartening sign for cinephiles, for it allows our creators to experiment and bring more authentic experiences to the screen.

Jai Bhim movie review Suriya leads a decisively realistic courtroom drama that reflects contradictions Ambedkar spoke of

Suriya in a still from Jai Bhim

Jai Bhim gets the best out of its ensemble of actors, who all turn in great performances. Suriya gives a formidable performance that is measured yet intense. Even though Chandru anchors the film, Jai Bhim truly belongs to the tribal couple Sengeni (Lijomol) and Rajakannu (Manikandan). Lijomol takes the cake with a phenomenal performance. She plays Sengeni with such a beautiful combination of dignity, innocence, and spirit that she becomes the soul of Jai Bhim. Lijomol is fantastically supported by Manikandan, who plays Rajakannu. The film also thankfully avoids forcing a romantic relationship between Chandru and Maithra (Rajisha Vijayan ). In the Tamil mainstream, the top reason to have a female character is still to play the love interest to the hero. Her importance to the story becomes less important. It is refreshing to see a star film sidestep this.

There’s a lot of good visual imagery in Jai Bhim: the police are often framed behind bars; Places of power are captured like a temple’s sanctum sanctorum -- dark rooms that are far away and inaccessible to the oppressed. The camera consistently finds interesting vantage points to add more perspective to the story. Jai Bhim is edited well -- despite the intensity of its subject and its runtime, the film retains its pace throughout. Sean Roldan's charming album ('Sendumalli' is pure saccharine goodness.) and minimalist score further ably support the film.

Jai Bhim is not an easy watch. The violence, including sexual violence, in the film, is explicit and bloodcurdling. (Consider this a trigger warning for sexual harassment.) But it is a very significant film, in many ways. Jai Bhim documents an important story of justice. It speaks of the apathy and discrimination that we have normalised as a society. It is also an example that star vehicles can aspire to be more than campy masala films. In the final few minutes of the film, Chandru passionately states that the verdict in Sengeni’s case is not a mere judgement but hope for a neglected community. The film ends with a Marathi poem about BR Ambedkar which says ‘Jai Bhim is light. Jai Bhim is love.’ Jai Bhim is also hope. Hope.

Rating: * * * *

Jai Bhim will release on Amazon Prime Video on 2 November.

Ashameera Aiyappan is a film journalist who writes about Indian cinema with a focus on South Indian films

 

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