Can I take the liberty to call Jhund a docu-drama? Or does it have to be labeled differently despite it having numerous elements that are so real and don’t bear any resemblance of what we typically see in a Bollywood film? Nagraj Manjule’s Jhund tackles and touches upon some key issues in a way that’s immersive and impressive.
Sometimes, you don’t need a film to impress you in entirety, and there are a couple of portions that stay with you for long, and hit you hard. Jhund has a few of these which are beautifully written, shot and narrated. And indeed heart-touching when you watch them.
Starring Amitabh Bachchan as Vijay Borade –a character based on the life of a retired sports professor Vijay Barse, who founded an NGO called Slum Soccer –Jhund is an entertainer of a different breed. A mix of sports and social drama, the film’s is about how Vijay spots a bunch of youngsters in neighbouring slum, playing with a plastic barrel, and their potential to do better in life rather than stay drowned in crimes in Nagpur’s underbelly. He builds a football team of underdogs from slums, and in the process, he keeps them off drugs, alcohol, and crimes like chain-snatching. Was all that an easy feat to achieve? What all challenges and struggles he had to face? Was he really able to change anyone’s life? This is what the film shows in its almost a three-hour-long runtime.
Whether or not it’s a safe proposition in today’s time, with OTT platforms offering so much content, to make a film this long is a different discussion altogether. But Manjule, to a large extent, manages to hold audience’s attention. There are moments when you feel the story has digressed a bit. And then, soon enough, another gripping scene catches your eye. It’s the camera work throughout that spells magic. Full credit to Sudhakar Reddy Yakkanti’s cinematography as he chooses to show close-ups of kids, evoking an unmatched emotion. Watch out for an adrenaline rush during those football match sequences.
There’s a warm and beautiful scene just before the interval where kids and adults from slums narrate their life stories and not for once do you feel they’re reading lines from a script. The Nagpuria dialect is right on-point and bowls you over. Perhaps that’s where Jhund scores a goal for me. Another scene which stays with you is towards the climax. Manjule, very metaphorically shows how despite being a ‘Don’ in your area, when you go out in the world, things are never too easy.
However, there’s inconsistency in the film’s pre and post-interval narrative. While the first half is tight and keeps you intrigued for most part, the second half just falls all over the place as the social drama part takes over. Thankfully, it’s not laced with multiple monologues from the protagonist. Even the humour that was quite organically peppered in first half, suddenly vanishes in the second, as focus shifts to issues like class divide, poverty, women’s education, gender disparity et al.
Talking of the sports sequences in the film, there are several deja vu moments when you watch the team in action on the football field. You’re reminded of highlights from Lagaan, Chak De India, Dangal, Sultan and many more and there’s no novelty there. They’re exciting to watch, no doubt, but you doesn’t surprise you with anything different. Nonetheless, none of this would have meant anything if it was not for Amitabh Bachchan’s screen presence. At 80, seeing him pull off this kind of a role is spectacular to say the least. He owns every frame he appears in onscreen and leaves you asking for more. The camaraderie and comfort he is shown to have with the kids moves you. And not for once does he try to overshadow the team he is coaching. Each kid in that team gets their moment to shine. Manjule’s actors from Sairat–Aakash Thosar and Rinky Rajguru–have smaller parts in the ensemble cast but lend a noticeable support to the story.
To sum up, Jhund is not and should not be looked at as a sports biopic. It shows you real issues and what goes behind the scenes when you try to accomplish something that everyone says you can’t.
Director: Nagraj Popatrao Manjule
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Rinku Rajguru and others