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Despite the odds against them, the women of 'Jai Bhim' are strong, self-sufficient & have an unflinching determination for justice.
Recently Tamil film ‘Jai Bhim!’ (streaming on Amazon Prime ) got the highest user-rating on IMDB site surpassing even the record set by ‘The Godfather.’
While the movie has an impressive list of male characters like Chandru (Suriya) and Rajakannu (Manikandan), the women of Jai Bhim! Sengani (Lijomol Jose) and Maithra (Rajisha Vijayan) deserve special mention.
Directed by T.J. Gnanavel, the movie is a court-room drama inspired from real-life incidents. The film shrinks the real-life decades-long fight for justice by the tribal woman Parvati, but the representation does justice.
The movie is about the struggle of Sengani, a tribal pregnant woman who is searching for her husband Rajakannu. Rajakannu is falsely framed by the police for a theft and tortured in prison. Suddenly, the police announce that he has escaped from prison with his brothers Irutappan and Mosakutty. The story follows Sengani and lawyer Chandru as they uncover what really happened to the trio. The movie is set in the 90s and depicts the brutality of custodial violence, caste realities, the apathy of the justice system, and the vulnerability of SC/ST communities.
Female actors have for long been lampshades lighting up the all powerful-heroes in Tamil cinema. They have remained the essential tropes for love songs and item songs, and often remain well-dressed accessories to the story. As relentless supporters in the hero’s journey female actors are often defined for their style statement and not their role in the movie .
But once in a while, there come female characters that rise against this tide with the story and performance. That’s Sengani and Lijomol Jose is the actor donning this role, inspired from the real life Parvati. The actor has shared how she trained for the role by living with members of the Irular community and how some of them were also part of the movie. Though the aspects of black-face and casting choice shadow her, she delivers an honest portrayal. Be it the doe-eyed love interest or the relentless crusader, Sengani played by Lijomol Jose delivers an intense performance.
Sengani is a strong and inspiring character. Heavily pregnant, she remains determined in the face of extreme odds in her quest to find her husband, Rajakannu. Throughout the movie Sengani represents a strong character who persists and stands up to authority even when she is offered money in exchange to withdraw the case.
Maithra (enacted by Rajisha Vijayan) is the good samaritan teacher, who assists the Irular population in gaining literacy or voter ids. The character helps Sengani throughout the movie and shows the power of strong sisterhood. As the literate, single working woman, Maithra represents the self-sufficiency that education can guarantee for a woman but still not measure up in the real world of patriarchal norms. She pursues the case and her communist associations help Sengani avail the help of human rights lawyer Chandru. The character Maithra also does not over-shadow the efforts of the tribal woman Sengani who remains the crux of the movie.
The women in Jai Bhim are strong, self-sufficient and they have an unflinching determination for justice. Many scenes describe these traits like when Sengani replies an immediate “yes”, in spite of being heavily pregnant to travel and find her husband. This also mirrors the reality of pregnancy for women from vulnerable communities.
There are many scenes that display the actor Lijomol Jose’s ability but the police station sequence, in particular deserves special mention. A pregnant Sengani walking away with her daughter (Alli) followed by police officers begging her to ride in the jeep will remain etched as one of the memorable scenes. Defying the bullying, insults of the police officers she stands her ground and does not withdraw her case to find her missing husband. Without punch dialogues that are ubiquitous in Tamil cinema, this particular sequence in the movie shows the transformation of Sengani’s helplessness to assertiveness creating a unique catharsis .
Sengani is loud in her lamentations, but her unspoken determination when facing the bullying of higher caste men in positions of power is intense. This is in contrast with how Maithra is vocal when she fights for the rights of the community against the stigma and inequality faced by them. All the female actors in the movie (Subhadra as Pachaiyammal, Rajakannu’s elder sister, Deepa, Kaveri as Irutappan’s and Mosakutty’s wife respectively) have given performances that highlight the real life nightmare women face within the system.
Women in Tamil movies are often mere caricatures, but the women characters in ‘Jai Bhim!’ are examples of authenticity. The film also represents how women from SC/ST communities face double-oppression in the face of patriarchy.
Another silent yet powerful character is Baby Joshika Maya as Alli, who marks the welcome shift towards social equality. Alli is the daughter of Sengani and Rajakannu who remains with her mother throughout the struggle. In her scenes she silently marks the mental shift towards equality, from the generations of oppression. The way she displays her name on the slate-board or reads the paper as an equal with lawyer Chandru, she represents the way forward!
The most disturbing aspect of the movie ‘Jai Bhim!’ are the sentences towards the end that state facts about the real incidents. The brief sentences reflect the social discrimination that haunts SC/ST and oppressed communities, till date.
Caste is omnipresent and while some have the privilege to isolate in a bubble, the greater many face the brunt of its discrimination. Being ignorant about caste is a privilege, and lack of representation adds to the bubble.
It is movies like ‘Jai Bhim!’ that offer a chance to understand the lived experiences of the many nameless women from the vulnerable communities. While better representation is always more powerful, this movie can be the starting point towards meaningful plots about real women heroes like Parvati.
Image source: Still from Jai Bhim!
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