The first movie that came to my mind while watching TJ Gnanavel’s Jai Bhim was Vetrimaran’s Visaranai. I am not saying that both films are equally good in terms of the craft. Jai Bhim is a much filmy version that has all these charged-up courtroom dialogues that we only see in commercial films. But there is a major chunk of the movie that happens outside the courtroom, and it is a gut-wrenching experience, somewhat similar to Visaranai. With a terrific Lijomol Jose portraying the anguish of Senggeni with immaculate perfection, this Suriya starrer is one social drama that needs to be watched.
Jai Bhim deals with the attitude of the people with the power to charge false cases against members of the lower caste. Senggeni and Rajakannu was this Irular tribe couple who were living that “happy” life amongst all those miseries. Rajakannu, who used to catch snakes, once got wrongly accused of a theft case. The pressures from above make the police do brutal things to Rajakannu and his relatives, including Senggeni. But one day, police claimed that three members who were arrested, including Rajakannu, escaped from the prison. What we see in the movie is Senggeni’s efforts to know where her husband went, and for that, she gets the help of a Chennai-based lawyer named Chandru.
The movie is set in the backdrop of 1993, and the sad part is that the story still feels relevant. TJ Gnanavel exposes the lame justifications and the real reasons why lower caste people are treated pathetically by others. There is a moment in the film where this upper caste Panchayat President shamelessly admits that the reason why these people don’t have Voter’s ID is that the upper caste’s ego won’t let them fold their hands in front o these people to get votes. Jai Bhim is very informative in that sense. It might not be that subtle in its approach, but the writing manages to create a long-lasting impact on the viewers through its honest depiction of the brutality.
TJ Gnanavel has managed to strike a good balance in the screenplay. As I already said, it is that cinematic version of a real-life incident. The dramatization is pretty evident in scenes. But he never pushes that drama to a level where the audience will disconnect from the movie. Even though the portions that have Suriya have this heroic texture, it is preceded and followed by events that will grab your attention. The visual representation of the film is also good. SR Kathir uses color palates and darks effectively to communicate the emotional pitch of the scene. I liked how Gnanavel used symmetric and opposite frames on multiple occasions where Suriya and Prakash Raj were in the same scene.
The show-stealer of Jai Bhim is obviously Lijomol Jose as Senngeni, who transformed completely to that character. The body language, the initial portions, the tough journey of that character, etc., were portrayed brilliantly by the actress. Suriya, as advocate Chandru is that grounded hero character. Well, rather than his acting, what stands out the most is his willingness to opt for a sensitive story rather than playing it safe. Another top-notch performance comes from K Manikandan, who played the role of Rajakannu. Rajisha Vijayan and Prakash Raj are there in vital roles that don’t feel like much of a challenge.
Caste-based oppression is still not a thing of the past, and Jai Bhim will remind most of us about the privileged space we are in. Jai Bhim is partially preachy. But because of the honesty, it shows in approaching the central theme that preachy feel never becomes a deal-breaker. With a constantly engaging screenplay and some great performances from its cast, TJ Gnanavel’s Jai Bhim is a pertinent legal drama.
With a constantly engaging screenplay and some great performances from its cast, TJ Gnanavel's Jai Bhim is a pertinent legal drama.
Green: Recommended Film
Orange: Okay, Watchable, Experimental Films
Red: Not Recommended