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Amitabh Bachchan-Starrer Jhund Has All the Magic of a Nagraj Manjule Film

Manjule's work has always been political but it was never didactic. Jhund seems to have crossed that boundary.

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Opinion
4 min read
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Bollywood fans will look at Jhund as an Amitabh Bachchan-starrer, but for the people who have been following the Marathi movie industry, it's an out-and-out Nagraj Manjule film. And for a reason!

Jhund, which is the third film of Manjule's career, marks his debut in Bollywood. However, in his short career spanning less than a decade (his first film Fandry came out in 2014), he has changed the parameters of Marathi cinema. And the classic elements of Manjule's filmmaking – the iconography in his films, his dry, dark humour, and his love for subtly juxtaposing things in such an effective way that the images stay with you long after you have exited the theatre – can be witnessed in Jhund too.

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The Story

Jhund is based on the life of a sports teacher from Nagpur called Vijay Barse (Vijay Borade in the film). Barse, one day, hands a football to a bunch of slum kids in his city when he sees them kicking a plastic bucket. The elated faces of the kids who, for the first time, get a chance to play with a real football, stay with Barse, and he realises the sport's potential to change their lives, after which he makes it his life's mission to train them.

The rest of the movie is the usual 'underdogs who go on to make it big' kind of story. However, there is a lot that takes place in the film besides this, and therefore, it cannot simply be classified as a sports film.

In one of the interviews, Manjule says that he spent a good amount of time in Nagpur's slums, lived with the kids – many of whom also acted in the film – observed their life, learned the mannerisms of their language, and so on. He borrows a lot from this experience for the film, which is why his portrayal has become evidently authentic.

Manjule's Phule-Ambedkarite Politics

Manjule's political leanings are known: he has spoken about the influence that the Phule-Ambedkarite ideology has had on him on many occasions. However, in his past films and short films, his politics was always understated; and his iconography was a silent spectator to the characters' lives. In Jhund, there is no scope to miss his politics; the icons of Maharashtra's anti-caste movement look at you from big photo frames and large cut-outs, the characters greet each other with 'Jai Bhim', and the children dance on the birth anniversary of BR Ambedkar – a festive occasion for the slum.

Manjule is a master of juxtaposition and irony. Anyone who has seen Fandry would have the last scene etched in their memory. The protagonist's family – carrying the carcass of a pig – passes by a school wall painted with big portraits of Ambedkar, Savitribai Phule, Shahu Maharaj, and Gadge Baba (all anti-caste icons) in a row. The family belongs to a community called Kaikadi, and is tasked with the job of catching troublesome pigs in the village, while constantly being humiliated and mocked for the same by the villagers.

We see this juxtaposition in Jhund as well. The song 'Sare Jahan Se Achha Hindustan Hamara' is playing in the background when probably the most tragic incident in the film takes place.

When the plane carrying the slum kids takes off for a foreign country – breaking the barriers of poverty, deprivation, and social oppression – it flies above a wall that has a line 'Crossing this wall is highly prohibited' written on it.

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The Linguistic Subversion in Jhund

Manjule has also dared to show Gondi language being spoken in a mainstream Bollywood film, and that too, not in one or two dialogues but in a number of scenes. The character played by Rinku Rajguru (Sairat’s famous Archi) belongs to what appears to be a Gond family, that speaks Gondi at home and not Marathi.

The nationalism of regional languages is on a resurgence, including in Maharashtra, which often results in the marginalisation of peripheral dialects and smaller languages. In Fandry too, the protagonist Jabya's parents speak in Kaikadi tongue, a language separate from Marathi.

In Jhund, we also get to see the things that we have come to associate with a Nagraj Manjule film. Manjule, as usual, plays a small character in the film, as he had done in Fandry and Sairat.

All the three films that Manjule has directed are children's films. In one of his recent interviews, he has said that he loved working with children and also knew how to extract good work from them. Almost all the child actors we see in Manjule's films are his own finds.

Manjule comes from a lower caste, extremely poor family, and his actors also are usually of a similar background. Most of the actors who play the role of slum kids in Jhund are themselves from the slums of Nagpur. Manjule is also fiercely loyal to the people he works with. The lead actors in Fandry and Sairat find significant roles in Jhund; and while the 'Jhingat'-fame Ajay-Atul has composed the music, Sudhakar Reddy Yakkanti yet again handles cinematography for Manjule.

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Mainstreaming Ambedkarism in Bollywood

Manjule's Jhund is an out-and-out political film – from its anti-caste aesthetics to the portrayal of marginalised lives, its plea for restorative justice to even the comment on the National Register of Citizens.

Though Manjule's work has always been political, it was never didactic. Jhund seems to have crossed that boundary in certain places, and the first casualty of this has been the story, making the film feel a bit dragged, especially in the second half.

However, the strong points of the film outweigh the few weaknesses in the storytelling. And one hopes that the unabashed portrayal of Ambedkarism in a mainstream Bollywood film will inspire more such films.

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