After winning accolades at various film festivals around the world, Devashish Makhija’s latest outing, Joram finally releases theatrically. The film, starring Manoj Bajpayee, draws the viewer into a complex labyrinth wherein the boundaries between right and wrong are blurred. This, as it mirrors the tangled interplay between development and the preservation of indigenous heritage. While adding to the list of films that highlight the exploitation of local communities by ruthless corporate giants, Joram credibly eschews clichés while telling its story.
Joram sees Darsu (Bajpayee) and his wife, Vaano (Tannishtha Chatterjee), both tribals from Jharkhand, work at a construction site in Mumbai. They have a three-year-old daughter named Joram. One day, Phulo Karma (Smita Tambe), a local politician from Daru’s village, while distributing goodies to tribal workers before the election, identifies Darsu as being part of the Naxalite group responsible for her son’s murder. That very night, she sends goons to kill Darsu and his family. Darsu manages to overpower the attackers and escape with his daughter, but Vaano is tragically killed in the scuffle. The incident is captured by one of the attackers and broadcast on television, along with old footage of an ambush orchestrated by Darsu and his team. Darsu believes that the killing was orchestrated by the leader of his Maoist group as a punishment for his leaving the group five years ago. In his quest for redemption, Darsu decides to return to his village even as a police officer, Ratnakar (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) is put on his trail…
The film begins poignantly in the serene landscapes of rural Jharkhand where Vanoo sways on a swing, accompanied by Darsu’s melodic rendition of a tribal song. As the idyllic moment unfolds on screen, the swing halts and the melody fades into silence. An empty frame lingers. Thus right at the outset, Makhija masterfully primes us for the imminent sense of foreboding that lingers throughout the film. The significance of the opening scene is underscored by highlighting the absence of the familiar swing Vaano cherished in her village. Now, little Joram must make do with an improvised swing made from a sari. Moreover, Darsu cradling his daughter close to his chest and escaping from the establishment, serves as a poignant metaphor that parallels the weight he once bore – that of a gun, the emblem of his tumultuous past.
The stark contrast between the bustling noise of the city and the quietude of Jharkhand, represented through a single barren tree, paints a vivid picture of how the greed of corporates has been the key reason for the displacement of several villages. Even in the realm of law and order, the enforcers are expected to follow orders without questioning authority. Ratnakar, sleep-deprived and operating on autopilot, blindly obeys his superiors’ directives as he is urgently dispatched to a rural region to apprehend a fugitive. Upon reaching the area’s dilapidated police station, he is shocked to find minors arrested simply because senior officials perceived a threat from children innocently playing with a bow and arrow. Thus the men in uniform, whether patrolling the chaotic streets of the metropolis or navigating the dense forests of Jharkhand, find themselves ensnared in a system that offers them little control over their actions. The dense foliage conceals not just the struggles of the forest dwellers but also the limitations imposed upon the police force, rendering them vulnerable and subject to the whims of a system that brutally exploits both sides.
Joram fearlessly delves into the intricate web of issues plaguing the lives of the indigenous community unfolding against the backdrop of a relentless battle, where the forces of government-backed businessmen clash with the Maoists, each vying for control over the sacred land. The film deftly navigates the intricate layers of this conflict. As the government aligns itself with powerful business interests, the ancestral lands of the indigenous people become the battleground, a coveted prize in the struggle for dominance. The nuanced storytelling not only sketches Darsu’s tension-laden mindscape but also humanizes his antagonist. Phulo Karma’s son, suspected as a spy of the corporates, meets a tortuous end at the hands of gun-wielding Maoists. The shock of his death claims her husband’s life as well. Thrust into the vortex of seeking revenge, she collaborates with Central Government agencies to eradicate every last trace of the Maoists from the jungles. But even amid her solitary meals, a yearning for family continues to echo deep inside her.
Manoj Bajpayee breathes life into a character enmeshed in a society that denies the voiceless a hearing, proving yet again that he is one of the finest actors in the country. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub delivers a compelling performance as a cop characterized by his honesty and integrity. Smita Tambe infuses her character with just the right amount of anger and grief, subtly garnering our empathy to her viewpoint as well. Tannishtha Chatterjee makes a brief yet impactful appearance in the film, staying true to the role of a devoted wife who faithfully follows her husband’s footsteps. Sadly, a fine actress like Rajshri Deshpande is wasted as Ratnakar’s wife.
Piyush Puty’s cinematography effectively combines framing, tonality and texture to evoke the film’s brooding atmosphere and a sense of foreboding doom. Abhro Banerjee’s editing sets the pace for the film, skillfully orchestrating both the fast-paced action sequences and the emotional, dramatic moments with razor-sharp precision. Dhiman Karmakar’s sound design effectively juxtaposes the cacophony of the city with the serene sounds of rural life, contributing significantly to the film’s immersive experience. The background score by Mangesh Dhakde, Vinamra Pancharia, and Pratul Vishera, seamlessly brings out the dour ambience of the film. Shamim Khan’s production exhibits a remarkable degree of authenticity and realism.
Though Joram has much going for it, it doesn’t quite pack the same punch as the filmmaker’s previous works like Ajji (2017), Bhonsle (2017) or his short film, Cycle (2021). Perhaps this is because the narrative centered on the plight of an underprivileged man, wronged by the system, treads familiar ground without offering anything substantially new. The portrayal of an urban cop undergoing a shift in perceptions about rural India’s workings, too, feels like a tried-and-tested motif. However, its refusal to conform to conventional thriller tropes nevertheless sets Joram apart and continues our belief in Makhija as a noteworthy voice for the voiceless in contemporary Indian cinema.
Hindi, Drama, Thriller, Color