Jai Bhim

Jai Bhim (Prime Video) : Hard hitting take on caste & class oppression

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By Neeraj Nanda

MELBOURNE, 6 November 2021: Irula, are a Dravidian Tribal group living in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka. Irular means “dark people” in Tamil and Malayalam, from the root word irul, meaning “darkness.” Edgar Thurston in his 1909 research speculated in ‘Castes and Tribes of Southern India’ that it either referred to the darkness of the jungles which they inhabited or their dark skin complexion. These people speak Irula, a Dravidian language (or a Tamil dialect), and are snake and rat-catchers and also work as laborers. No doubt, an exploited and discriminated community.

A real incident of ‘custodial death’ in this community in 1995, is the theme of ‘Jai Bhim’. Three Irulas are picked up by police on suspicion after the theft of jewelry in a rich man’s home. Violent interrogation methods with caste slurs are used to extort confessions for a crime, they had nothing to do with. Nothing comes out of beatings in the police station. One of the accused’s pregnant wife is also arrested and beaten up. And, the three accused are declared absconders.

The pregnant wife with the help of a left-wing school teacher and a human rights lawyer file a ‘Habeaus Corpus’ (produce alive or dead in the court) petition in the court. The public prosecutor tries to defame the accused as habitual criminals and offenders, while the lawyer for the accused gathers factual evidence to defend his clients. A leftist party, meanwhile, agitates to support the accused and their community. The simmering case moves ahead as new facts of violence and torture of the accused emerge.

Subsequent hearings reveal one of the accused (the pregnant woman’s husband) was killed in custody after brutal torture and the other two were shifted to another jail, though it was shown as if they had escaped to Kerala. The court rules there was a custodial death and the three accused were innocent and were framed in the fake case. It orders the cops responsible in the case to be prosecuted.

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This two hours 44 minutes Tamil movie is a hard-hitting take on caste and class exploitation. Something, which has crept into the 21st century. The way the law enforcement agencies and others use caste slurs, violence, and torture against a vulnerable community speaks for itself. Those sitting in privileged positions talking about Black Lives Matter and enjoying economic prosperity need to introspect.

The photographs of Karl Marx, Pariyar, and Dr. B. R. Ambedkar are visible in the movie. A leftist party and red flags grace many scenes. Their stand and fight for the downtrodden is a truism the movie reflects. But the lawyer of the accused fights from within the system and says the law is a powerful tool for these causes. I cannot bring the man killed by cops back to life but can stop this from happening again.

Surya (Chandru lawyer), Lijomol Jose (pregnant wife), Prakash Raj (Inspector General), Rajisha Vijayan (school teacher), K. Manikandanan (pregnant woman’s husband)… give sterling performances. The powerful content of the movie diminishes its minor flaws. Director T. J. Gnanavel has given us a weapon to expose the forces of caste and class oppression. Naturally, the conservative status quo forces have criticized the movie. ‘Custodial killings’ have not ended and it remains a black spot.

Towards the end, we understand why is the movie called ‘Jai Bhim’. It’s inspired by the teachings of Dr.B. R. Ambedkar, the framer of the Indian constitution and a fighter against the centuries-old caste system. Surya says he hopes the movie will inspire a new generation. I agree with him.

I give this movie 4 and a half out of five stars.

JAI BHIM is streaming at Prime Video.

About noelnadesan

Commentator and analyst of current affairs.
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