A moving illustration of socially responsible cinema at its best, Devashish Makhija’s Joram tears you up as the director, known to map the struggles of the marginalised, follows a tribal man on the run from a system that has labeled him a killer, a Maoist.
Located at the vortex of the politics of development and what it means for the people who are going to populate the so-called Pragati Nagar, the film is a disturbing yet absorbing take on the perils of feeding human greed, with no clear answers. The protagonist is a migrant labourer running away with his infant daughter to a non-existent safe place but his truth hurtles towards the audience in the darkness of the theatre that you can’t afford to dodge.
Forced to leave their forest dwelling in Jharkhand by circumstance, Dasru (Manoj Bajpayee) and Vaano (Tannishtha Chatterjee) are struggling to make ends meet by working as daily wagers in the concrete jungle of Mumbai. The relaxing familiarity of a swing that Vaano enjoyed on the trees in her village is not there for her daughter. She has to make do with a hammock made of sari, tied between two pillars of concrete. The folk songs that Dasru and Vaano sang with abandon in their forest are now reduced to a mere structured hum.
One day, a tribal politician Phulo Karma (Smita Tambe) makes an entry into their lives and turns the world of Dasru upside down, literally. The two have a past connection where Phulo holds Dasru responsible for a personal loss and is keen on settling scores. Selling the idea of development as designed by the politician and the corporate, Phulo is the system’s advocate amidst the tribals, who are struggling to save their jal, jungle, and zameen from mining barons and the separatist ideology of gun-wielding Maoists. Dasru is caught in the crossfire between the two camps where the sympathisers of both sides are targeted.
Director: Devashish Makhija
Cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Smita Tambe
Run-time: 119 minutes
Storyline: A desperate father is on the run with his infant daughter to escape a system that wants him dead
As he runs for safety, the system makes a reluctant cop Ratnakar (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) chase him down. On the surface, the film takes the shape of a thriller but it is the desperation of these two men that makes it a realistic human drama, where one is a puppet who is not expected to use his mind and the other is a mere pawn in the big game who is surviving well beyond his expiry date. Ratnakar’s experience at the local bedraggled police station gives us further insight into lopsided development and the one-dimensional flow of power.
Devashish doesn’t spell out everything and lets the visuals speak for themselves. He expects the audience to strain their ears and minds to feel Dasru’s fear and pain expressed in broken sentences in the local dialect. The camera movement adds to the storytelling as it matches the jerky turns in Dasru’s escape. The visuals of ravaging dinosaur-like cranes and a barren tree become telling comments on rapacious human nature and corporate-centric policy. After a point, Dasru’s daughter becomes a metaphor for the last straw of his verdant past that he is desperate to hold on to.
Despite being on screen for decades, Manoj’s flair to become the character hasn’t diminished. Yet again, he speaks fluently through his body language. Almost like Naseeruddin Shah’s turn in Goutam Ghose’s Paar, Manoj wordlessly yet seamlessly conveys the anxiety, desperation, and fortitude of a father pushed against the wall. He captures the naivety of a poor man who doesn’t know why he is being punished but is keen on clearing his position. Zeeshan proves to be a competent foil as the policeman who could see the wrong but can’t correct it. Smita’s performance is not as smooth and some portions feel like they have been cooked up to suit the serious palate but overall Joram is a gripping account of the precarious balance between nature and its indigenous keepers. Those chasing easy entertainment should stay away.
Joram is currently playing in theatres