The star power of Suriya – it is harnessed with impressive control – propels Jai Bhim, writer-director TJ Gnanavel’s legal procedural centred on an activist-lawyer’s fight to secure justice for a pregnant tribal woman whose husband goes missing from police custody after a false robbery case is foisted on him. The amalgamation of the lead actor’s charisma, the urgency of the theme and the force of the no-holds-barred storytelling results in an immersive and riveting film that calls attention to the plight of an oppressed community languishing on the fringes of society.

Jai Bhim Review: Suriya Is In Formidable Form In Riveting Film

In the opening sequence of the Tamil film, streaming on Amazon Prime Video from November 2, a few tribal men emerge one by one from a jail only to be herded into a police van and taken away to be charged with crimes they did not commit. The Inspector-General of Police, obviously responding to a nudge from his political bosses, has resolved to close all pending cases in Tami Nadu. The tribals are easy prey.

Cut to a village. A group of Irula tribals smoke rats out of their holes to save the farmlands of the region’s rich and powerful. They are expert snake-catchers, too, and are summoned to trap cobras and other serpents. But no matter how useful they are, their status is perennially precarious.

You should stay put in the mountains, says an official dismissively when a few Irula men plead with him for assistance to get out of the limbo they are stuck in. “We are a clan born to thrive,” goes a line in a song that plays on the soundtrack (all the numbers in Jai Bhim are non-lip synched). The irony is piercing.

In the film’s specificity – it is based on true events revolving around a 1995 habeas corpus petition that human rights lawyer K. Chandru (later a judge) filed in the Madras High Court – lies its universality. Given its unflinching, uncluttered underscoring of how shockingly easy it is to derail justice when it comes to supplicants who do not possess the requisite social capital, Jai Bhim is a hard-hitting film that hasn’t come a day too soon.

In narrating the tale of an Irula man, Rajakannu (Manikandan), a victim of police brutality, and his wife Sengeni (Lijomol Jose), who is expecting her second child while the father is away working in a brick-kiln to supplement the family’s meagre income, Jai Bhim encapsulates the larger truth of caste atrocities, crushing poverty and police brutality.

Rajakannu and Sengeni live with their daughter Alli, like all the other Irulas, in a mud house. The man promises to build his wife a brick house someday. At no point does that simple aspiration seem attainable considering the hurdles in Rajakannu’s path.

Of late, there has been a spate of Tamil films that have probed the linkages between police highhandedness and caste violence. To that extent, Jai Bhim treads familiar ground. What sets it apart somewhat from the likes of Visaranai, Pariyerum Perumal Asuran and Karnan is the setting. It moves beyond the village and the police station (both key locations of the film) and opts for the courtroom as the principal arena for a battle of attrition between a steadfast legal campaigner and the unrelenting might of the state.


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