I recently finished reading a book called A Time Outside This Time, written by Amitava Kumar. It investigates fake news from pre and post-pandemic eras and delves into how we access truth in general. What we consume regularly through the media can be recycled fiction with no truth. It can have a bigoted, prejudiced spin to it. The new Malayalam film Jana Gana Mana, directed by Dijo Jose Antony, operates in the same terrain. Instead of merely pointing fingers at any person or entity, it objects to the nature in which we access and categorize truth. It shows how a hunger for seeking truth can result in being satisfied with almost anything that you receive under the garb of truth.
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The film opens up with Prithviraj Sukumaran’s character being taken away by the cops and a woman (his wife) sobbing in the middle of a riotous crowd. Through this sequence, Jana Gana Mana establishes its rebellious tone. The character at the center of this emotion appears much later in the film. Instead, we are presented with an incident of a brutal murder being investigated by the police force. A young female Muslim college professor is raped by some assailants whose body is burned and left out in the open. From this piece of information, the cops are shown to be looking for the perpetrators behind this heinous crime. While this is happening, the students from the college where she used to teach are filled with rage because of the tragic death of their beloved professor. These students put all kinds of pressure on the system that deliberately slows down the process of justice.
While cops are generally perceived as the blind followers of the political parties in power, they appear much more warm and friendly through their interactions in Jana Gana Mana. The person at the helm of this police force is ACP Sajjan Kumar (Suraj Venjaramoodu), who is a single parent living with his school-going, bright kid. He claims to adhere to the law and help the students out with cooperation from his side if they continue a peaceful protest. As an audience, you sense in him a hero who would believe in and work for justice, a hero that you would root for. He appears as the sanest and calm-headed person with an idealistic drive. However, after a certain incident related to the accused, he is pulled into the court for questioning where he has to defend himself against the accusations against him on the humanitarian front.
Prithviraj Sukumaran’s character – Arvind Swaminathan, now appears as the opposing counsel in this case. He looks much older, walking with a stick quadripod. His arguments present the plea for truth & justice and ring true to the state we are in. His performance hammers every word and every point that the film tries to present through him and creates a desired intense impact. However, due to this, Arvind feels like an omniscient narrator instead of a believable character in this tale, which makes him seem like a mere writing device to communicate the arguments of those behind the camera. While the intent of the film cannot be appreciated enough, the cinematic translation appears inorganic as a result of that. If, as a filmmaker, you have a highly convincing & pertinent argument to make that is emotionally potent in itself, why is there a need for dramatization? I’m asking this solely because I wish what the director Dijo Jose Antony and the writer Sharis Mohammed plead to not be ignored because of its theatricality, to not be dismissed because of its conventional cinematic grammar. Its potency gets sidelined at moments when it succumbs to the same sensationalism that it tries to criticize.
Despite my issues with its form, the content from Jana Gana Mana cannot and should not be ignored. The script puts the burning questions of today with rigor and conviction. The discrimination based on caste, religion, and gender that goes unnoticed because of the ones causing it being in power, is heavily criticized throughout the film. The criticism comes out as bluntly as required. From the traditional media to the new-age social media, the reactionary people come at the center of criticism. Through Arvind’s character, the film presents the ways in which an institution can be brutal to uproot your life if you dare speak even a bit against them. As a result, the film makes you enraged for the reasons you ideally should. Amidst its relevant script, what stands out is the understated performance by Suraj Venjaramoodu that portrays his troublesome character arc with utmost subtlety. The credit for the rollercoaster of emotions that you feel for the ACP’s character largely goes to him.
JANA GANA MANA IS AVAILABLE TO WATCH ON NETFLIX