Thursday, 30 June, 2022
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Jhund is not just about Ambedkar portrait. It kicks out 5 Bollywood stereotypes

In Jhund, Nagraj Manjule doesn’t preach about India, patriotism, sports. Nor does he make Amitabh Bachchan do it.

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In Amit V. Masurkar’s Newton (2017), there is a scene where a power cut darkens Newton’s study room. But for a brief second, you see B.R. Ambedkar’s portrait on the wall. It’s a two-second shot bound to be missed unless you watch carefully. Through Jhund, Nagraj Manjule not just brings that hesitant frame of Ambedkar to the forefront, but also keeps the camera on it for full five minutes for an Ambedkar Jayanti song, a first in any Hindi film.

While the first Ambedkar photo came on screen in Bollywood in 38 years, it took another 36 years for an Ambedkar song to be featured in a Hindi film. Although much has been spoken about this song or the first-time actors in Jhund, they are not the main premise of Nagraj Manjule’s directorial debut in Bollywood. Jhund doesn’t show Ambedkar and the slum notionally, it smashes five film-making methods of Bollywood that is definitely going to make other filmmakers think.

  1. Asks ‘What is India’, instead of lecturing us on it

In an era where nationalism and its test form the bulk of debates, Jhund teaches patriotism in a new form: through fraternity. In his speech to the Constituent Assembly in 1949, Ambedkar had warned that “in believing that we are a nation, we are cherishing a great delusion. How can people divided into several thousands of castes be a nation? In India there are castes. The castes are anti-national. In the first place because they bring about separation in social life. They are anti-national also because they generate jealously and antipathy between caste and caste. But we must overcome all these difficulties if we wish to become a nation in reality. Without fraternity, equality and liberty will be no deeper than coats of paint.”

If a team is preparing for an international match in a Bollywood sports film, you will see lectures on patriotism. In Chak De! India (2007), coach Kabir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) lectures his players on India. But Jhund asks an innocent question through a boy named Kartik – “What is Bharat”? A question smilingly unanswered by Coach Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan).

Nargaj Manjule uses his film to demonstrate Ambedkar’s message to show that strong fraternity can transcend boundaries of caste. He does not use football to build fraternity, he merely tells us what fraternity is and how the idea of a nation is delusional without it.

Also read: The Ambedkar musical is not just about Babasaheb, it’s a nod to Kejriwal’s politics too

  1. Throws the characters at you, doesn’t slowly introduce them

As Jhund starts, Nagraj springs the new actors and characters on you – no slow-motion introduction with narration, no backstory. It is as if you are air-dropped into a slum. You are glued to the scenes as they unfold – kids smoking pot, stealing, bunking school, hooliganism, eve-teasing. And all this without any emotional angle.

It is as if Nagraj does not want the audience to sympathise with the characters as he shows the gory realities of slum life. It’s only towards the interval that we get to really know the children, their struggles and how oppressive system had relegated them to the background. The scene hits you hard, especially as one boy plays Sare Jahan Se Accha on a Banjo.

  1. Bollywood gets a new language and a new location – Nagpur

The movie starts with the lives of teens, children and adults living in Gaddi Godam, a slum in Nagpur. It takes a few minutes to catch up to the fact that we are watching a Bollywood movie with a major star. Manjule unsettles you in the first few minutes as you try to adjust to the new lingo, characters and conversation – it is not a smooth ride and you can’t just lay back, you have to pay attention and listen carefully. To make it an authentic portrayal, Manjule chose to cast actors living in the slums of Nagpur. Manjule spent quite some time identifying the kids. His brother Bhushan Manjule is the casting director who found debutant artists Ankush aka Don, Babu and Kartik. The lingo comes to the teens naturally, it isn’t forced.

In Bollywood stereotypes of middle or lower-middle-class Marathi characters, celebrations have been synonymous with the Ganpati festival or Dahi handi festival, but never Ambedkar Jayanti that’s celebrated with equal fervour if not more. Think about Amitabh Bachchan’s Agneepath (1990), Anurag Kashyap’s Satya (1998), for instance. Nagraj uses the same Amitabh differently when he tells the story of the underprivileged.

Even after its release, Nagraj Manjule chose to do the premiere of the movie in Nagpur, far away from Mumbai or Pune, demonstrating that he lives by breaking stereotypes not just showing them on screen.

Also read: Jhund is not just another sports film. It explores the ‘idea of India’ through Dalit eyes

  1. Newbie Ankush Gedam is the hero, not Big B

Coach-and-student stories have been told multiple times, and it is the coach who occupies the focus and purpose in these movies. Jhund gives more space to the first-time actors than megastar Amitabh Bachchan. Here, even if the story is about coach Vijay, he isn’t the central theme of the film, unlike Chak De! India.

In Article 15 (2019) and Lagaan (2001), we saw the savarna saviour theme – hapless Dalits rescued by the Savarna lead. Manjule makes sure that does not happen in Jhund. He starts the film with Don aka Ankush Masram played by Ankush Gedam and revolves mostly around his and his friends’ stories. Amitabh Bachchan plays an important role but he is not the central figure – so much so that his wife and daughter barely have dialogues. Witty one-liners from the children in conversation with Vijay make the movie more about them.

  1. Challenges the audience with language

As the movie goes from Gaddi Godam to other slums of the country, Monica (Rinku Rajguru) gets selected in Vijay Sir’s team. But her struggle to get a passport stands out. Monica, a school dropout, finds it hard to get supporting documents to prove her identity as she goes from pillar to post. But in the process, she speaks the Gondi tribal language that is unknown to even the cast of the film. In choosing to not give subtitles, Manjule is perhaps telling all of us that he is equally guilty of not understanding Monica’s language. The sequence is carried merely by the emotions of the father-daughter duo and Rinku Rajguru playing the character perfectly.

The scene in which Ankush is shown running towards the airport with Nagpur’s Deeksha Bhoomi (the memorial place where Ambedkar converted to Buddhism to emancipate millions of Dalits) in the backdrop is powerfully shot.

Also read: Ambedkar, Bachchan, caste, sport — Nagraj Manjule’s ‘Jhund’ says a lot by saying nothing at all

Showing Bollywood how it’s done

There are so many firsts in Jhund that one wonders if this film will turn out to be part education for filmmakers.

Anurag Kashyap, a director known for alternate cinema, said he would need to re-learn filmmaking after watching Jhund. Aamir Khan said that Manjule has kicked out all that he had learned in the last 20-30 years in film, like a football.

Manjule, a stereotype-breaker, comes out of his own mould by not giving an unexpected plot twist towards the end.

Indeed, Jhund is a stepping stone for a new kind of Bollywood movie-making and carries the hope that it will change for good. By showing tribal freedom fighter Birsa Munda in a Bollywood movie, Nagraj Manjule has paved the way for Pa Ranjith’s foray into Bollywood with his biopic on Birsa Munda.

Ravi Shinde is an independent writer and columnist. He writes on socio-political issues and is proponent of diversity. Views are personal.

(Edited by Neera Majumdar)

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