In the first season of Anand Neotia, actor Amitabh Bachchan loses his mannerisms and baritone to play a determined football coach who utilizes the beautiful game to improve the lives of slum children.
Jhund takes us beyond the “wall of social divide” to a ghetto where life is a struggle for survival. Inspired by the real-life story of a football coach named Vijay Barse who raised impoverished kids through sports and established the idea of slum soccer, Nagraj has used his lived Dalit experience to make a sincere statement on the importance of bridging social gaps without resorting to sugar coating.
Although it is not as wholesome as Fandry and Sairat, the social drama Deshdrohi deserves to be seen for its gritty realism and ability to stare into the maw of a decaying social problem.
In reality, the actual problem in the film is staring. When an upper-caste boy looks at a Dalit in his area, it is interpreted as an inquiry into his existence; but when a Dalit gazes back on a well-endowed man in his place, it is seen as an affront for acknowledging him.
In commercial cinema, Dalit characters are whipped to elicit feelings in the favor of the upper-caste or casteless saviour for poetic justice. The closeness between them is frequently as much as a politician having dinner with a Dalit during election season.
On the other hand, parallel cinema whitewashes Dalits to the point that it takes away from them of their social and psychological scars resulting from millennia of otherization. Manjule keeps it real and raw in this scene as the camera follows Ankush Mashram’s tears. However, the film provides a stirring background music for the Dalit hero, which is typically reserved for a higher-class protagonist in mainstream Hindi films.
At one point, Mashram begins to resemble Mishra. The ambience of jhopad patti, the home of ragpickers, is littered with plastic; nevertheless, there is no designer exhibit of hardship.
In this sequence, Manjule examines the lure for dignity and freedom that is felt by Dalits through the use of symbolism. Even in the frame of a Hindi film’s background, B. R. Ambedkar’s image is difficult to find, but Manjule captures the youth dancing in abandon to the DJ music in front of his portrait. The scene closes with India’s greatest movie icon bowing down before a Dalit hero.
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At the same time, he puts up a Dalit shopkeeper who isn’t too enthusiastic about investing in this unreflective display of Dalit power, and only raises his hand when he sees a genuine opportunity for change. In the conclusion, when Ankush successfully passes through a metal detector, the most powerful visual metaphor for change is on display.
The cuts aren’t uniform in speed, and it appears Manjule doesn’t like using scissors. It takes some time to get used to the atmosphere, but eventually it dawns on us that the technical grammar of the film is in keeping with the lives it portrays; a meandering desire to escape from a rabbit hole where crime frequently becomes a habit and drugs an escape from reality.
The film takes on the sensitive and emotional themes of hyphenation, assimilation, and identity without being didactic. This approach allows for a more accurate representation of real events. For example, the sequences in which slum residents find out they are Indian and need papers to prove their identification are handled as matter-of-factly as it may occur in life. Casting non-actors is useful in creating an atmosphere of intimacy.
The real Vijay, as we all know, is Amitabh Bachchan. The original Vijay? Amitabh Bachchan lowers his mannerisms and baritone to portray a committed football coach who uses the beautiful game to transform the lives of slum kids. He doesn’t appear odd amongst the non-actors cast, to be honest with you.
However, the story may have been tighter and subtler, and Vijay’s character could have had a few more dimensions. His courtroom speech detracts from the impact of all the unsaid that Manjule had previously captured. The surrogate advertising of an airline also takes away some of the power. But then you run the risk when you step on the line that divides business from art.
Directed by: Nagraj Manjule
Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Ankush Gedam, Akash Thosar, Rinku Rajguru
Edited by: Kutub Inamdar, Vaibhav Dabhade
Distributed by: Zee Studios
Release date: 4 March 2022
Running time: 176 minutes
Movie Rating: 3.7