In an age as polarized as ours, it is but natural to expect movies with overt political tones to get traction. In the past few months only, the Indian film industry has given us multiple such movies, many of which such as "Samrat Prithviraj" have been spectacular failures while others like "The Kashmir Files" amassed great success. Dijo Jose Anthony’s Malayalam drama "Jana Gana Mana" is a notable addition to the list.
The movie starts in the aftermath of a gruesome murder of a university professor. Amidst massive outpouring of grief, we listen to the chancellor’s apathetic speech denouncing the murdered teacher as replaceable, one among many, while denouncing student protestors as those "who can be identified by their clothes" (an obvious reference to a polarized statement of the current Prime Minister in an election rally). This further enrages the students, leading to massive protests and police abuse. In one scene, a bloodied student is seen posting a video narrating the abuse on social media, a reference to Aishe Ghosh and the 2020 JNU attack.
Here, the movie takes a strange turn as we are introduced to an upright cop Sajjan Kumar, played by Suraj Venjaramoodu. While Kumar catches presumably the right culprits, all from marginalized communities, massive political pressure makes it difficult for him to bring them to trial. A frustrated Kumar then shoots all of the accused in a staged encounter. What is particularly remarkable is that the movie manages to convince its viewers that it’s celebrating the encounter. Thus, we see massive outpouring of support from the victim’s family, the larger public as well as the media. A glimpse that stands out is Kumar’s son being applauded by his classmates and teachers after the class comes to know about the encounter.
That the movie succeeds in its attempt to steel-man this point of view is clear to me since I was personally disgusted at the celebration of the breakdown of law and order in the first half. In the second half, the movie pulls up its trump card. After multiple melodramatic and cringe-worthy scenes in the first half, the second half’s loud but intense court-drama with the introduction of Prithviraj Sukumaran comes as a breath of fresh air.
While the messaging is often not subtle at all, one ought to excuse such discrepancies in a politically conscious movies that also attempts to be a mass blockbuster. However, one gets a sense that the movie attempts to tackle too many issues at the same time i.e. the complacency of the media, the celebration of law and order, unjustified use of state power on politically conscious citizens, casteism in college campuses and student suicides etc. In doing so, the movie fails to present a nuanced view of many of these issues. Where the movie succeeds is in its portrayal of the effect that societal approval has on the abuse of state power by institutions such as the police. Indeed, recently we saw many on social media celebrating police abuse on presumed captured stone pelters. That the police’s duty is to capture criminals, not punish them is still not obvious to our society.
The performances of all of its actors are captivating and convincing. However, the lengthy 30-min teaser to a sequel at the end comes off as overdone and unnecessary. There are multiple instances of the potential that the movie holds, yet in its attempt to pack too much, it fails to do justice to most of its issues. The music is unremarkable and average at best, unnecessary at worst. Nevertheless, it is an extremely enjoyable, politically conscientious, courageous and thought provoking movie worth a watch.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)
More From The Author: Is Bollywood in decline?