Jana Gana Mana

Jana Gana Mana

This is a loud film about India’s undeniably dirty core of discrimination. It uses broad strokes for its emotions, loudest of scores that underlines every beat and movement in the visuals. It is cinema that intends to play to the galleries, and does a good job with its messaging within this framework. There are genuinely good intentions, and it’s especially nice to see Malayalam cinema taking up caste head-on, in the vein of what Tamil cinema has illustriously been doing in the past decade.

Sharis Mohammed’s writing aims to tell a sprawling story around bureucracy, electoral politics and the police. This expanse is the USP of the film, the promise of something beyond this singular story. It’s a setup of an “epic”, if I may. The way the film begins with a tease of Prithviraj’s character sort of undermines the punch in his late arrival into the narrative. With the fact that we already know there’s more to him, the epilogue feels more overlong than it already is. The story of this “chapter” of sorts works on its own, without relying on the larger narrative it sets up. That also does make the clumsy world-building seem like extra baggage, but it’s exciting, nevertheless.

Dijo Jose Antony’s direction is simplistic and he’s least bothered about the noisiness of his scenes. But that works in favour of Prithviraj’s propped-up presence and his punchy courtroom messaging. Where it doesn’t work is in the shading of the Sajjan Kumar character, whose twist feels like a screenplay element rather than an organic move of the character’s. Suraj Venjaramoodu with expected conviction, sells his part in the proceedings.

In spite of the film’s noble intentions, there are contradictions in its politics. For the kind of progressive outlook it presents with regards to the treatment of women in this country, it writes female characters only with utterly basic tropes. It can also come across as a male saviour film, but the said male also being upper caste, is certainly, a choice. The suggestive focus on a student with a lower-caste “look” is also a choice. Can be filed under the discreet charm of the Savarnas.

I also do have a soft corner for narratives that make a mainstream hero barge down on the viewer with high-decibel progressive dialogues. An unabashed, unglorified reading of India’s ugliness? Yes please. A courtroom is the perfect contextual device for these messages to run rampant without a check on sounding expository. This film takes it to a whole other level, with barrages of real life anecdotes, flashbacks (and twists) being dropped at the court. Prithviraj delivers all he can on this front, with inspiring enunciation and his battered-but-wise presence.

The clever reversal of the narrative on police encounters is where most thought seems to have gone into, and that’s the well-handled crux of the film. The epilogue, though promising enough story, does hog limelight for the star instead of the ideologies presented in the crux. I wish the film had let us go with an aftertaste of its politics instead of a trailer to its sequel. The generic direction is its biggest pitfall, but I’d still call this a neat addition to the anti-police sentiment of Indian cinema.


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