Amazon Prime Video's Jai Bhim, starring Suriya in the lead role, is one of the finest social dramas to have released this year.
Inspired by a real-life case fought by former lawyer and High Court judge Chandru, Jai Bhim is a must-watch for a society that is far too comfortable turning a blind eye to the caste divide, corruption, and caste-based atrocities that are still prevalent in our country.
The film is based on the 1993 Cuddalore Incident where Rajakannu, a member of the Kurumbar tribal community was falsely accused of theft, imprisoned, and tortured by the Police officials. After Rajakannu succumbed to his injuries, the police covered up the incident but his wife fought for justice. Chandru, who was a lawyer at the time, fought and won her case in a landmark judgment.
On paper itself, Jai Bhim makes for an impactful story - one that should be part of our history lessons, to remind the current generation of how caste-based violence never really ended. But writer-director T. J. Gnanavel turns the story into a rousing tale of a wife's fight for justice.
Right from the start, the film showcases how caste is used as a dividing force to determine who will pay the price of corrupt practices. As one of the officers comments in the opening sequence - the crime of people belonging to a particular caste is that they were born in that caste!
The film is covered with multiple such examples, organically woven into the story, that serve to remind how commonplace it is to exploit people because of their caste, especially in villages and small towns.
In fact, it's just because of his caste that Rajakannu, a snake catcher, is accused of robbing the sarpanch, despite the fact that he is not even in the town when the robbery takes place.
From capturing and beating his relatives (including his pregnant wife) till he's found, to torturing him repeatedly and forcing him to confess to the crime, Rajakannu and his family member's treatment at the hands of the police is one of the most shocking scenes to witness. And yet, it's not far from reality. After all, instances of police brutality are far too common in India, even today.
But Jai Bhim reminds the audience of how this case goes beyond corruption and torture. It's rooted in caste-based violence because the prime accused in the cases go scot-free, and an innocent is imprisoned and mercilessly beaten - just because of his caste. His family is not informed of his death, and he is not even awarded the dignity of last rites.
The second half of the film focuses on how Rajakannu's pregnant wife Senghini fights to find the truth about her husband, aided by activist and lawyer, Chandru. Through several twists and turns, the film constantly builds up the idea that every human is born free, and deserves to be protected, not exploited, by law and order.
It is truly commendable how the film manages to turn this into a gripping thriller, without any of the tropes that Bollywood doles out in abundance. There is no forced romance, or motivational track playing in the background. And even when Suriya delivers a knockout performance, the hero of the story remains, the story.
Lijomol Jose's blackface is perhaps the only flaw in a story that leaves you sobbing and smiling as it ends. And Prakash Raj is, as usual, brilliant in his brief but pivotal role in the film.
While technically a 'happy ending', the film leaves you with a sobering realization of the ugly reality of the caste division in India.
Despite several reforms by the government and countless attempts by social activists and NGOs, caste-based atrocities continue to thrive in villages, small towns, and to a small extent, in metro cities as well. This is true of all religions and all regions in India, and it's an ugly reality that we are far too comfortable ignoring - but we shouldn't. And that's exactly what Jai Bhim does - forces you to sit up and take notice.
All images are screenshots from Amazon Prime Video unless specified otherwise.