Justice is the bread of the people
Sometimes is plentiful, sometimes it is scarce
Sometimes it tastes good, sometimes it tastes bad.
When the bread is scarce, there is hunger.
When the bread is bad, there is discontent.
- Bertolt Brecht, German Poet
Bertolt Brecht’s lines on justice beautifully summarize the heart and the intent behind the film ‘Jai Bhim’. Jai Bhim is a call celebrating backward class emancipator Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar. However, in the context of the film, the invisible call reverberates throughout the movie. The film is a long yet honest attempt at bringing to light the struggle of justice of the tribals in a Tamilnadu village who were falsely implicated in a case of a robbery and then tortured in police custody. The film is made on a real-life incident and the fight that Advocate Chandru gave in giving justice to Rajakannu and his brethren from the Irular tribe. Advocate Chandru played by actor Suryakumar in real-life retired as Justice Chandru from the Madras High Court. Known as one of the most socially conscious lawyers and Justice, he has disposed of off more than 96,000 cases that allegedly falsely implicated the tribal community.
Having watched Karnan and also reviewed it I couldn’t resist making comparisons between both the films. Karnan used metaphors and smart filmmaking techniques to tell the story of an invisibilised community. Jai Bhim desists from showing too many metaphors in the film. However, it amply compensates that with apt legal research and showing Advocate Chandru’s dogged perseverance in helping Senggeni the wife of Rajakannu who the police claim has gone missing from the police station after being implicated falsely for a robbery that he never committed.
Based on a true incident in 1993, the movie involves a case fought by Justice K.Chandru and follows Senggeni and Rajakannu, a couple from the Irular tribe. Rajakannu was convicted by the police and was later missing from the police station. Senggeni seeks the help of an advocate Chandru to seek justice for her husband. Chandru files a habeas corpus case and he refers to the Rajan case to pursue the case further.The film stars Suriya, Lijomol Jose, K. Manikandan, Prakash Raj, Rajisha Vijayan and Rao Ramesh in supporting roles.
The movie portrays it in a threadbare fashion as to how the ‘system’ which is supposed to ensure justice for all and discrimination to none runs differently for the rich and powerful, and differently for the invisibilised sections of our society especially tribals. The rural tribes are usually employed by the landlords as unskilled and semi-skilled labourers in their farms. They either work in brick kilns for a pittance or work in the fields as rat and snake catchers. The film in the beginning shows the Adivasi community’s commitment to nature and the farming work that they indulge in. Later it depicts in a raw fashion how when there is a robbery in a village headsman’s house the first needle of suspicion goes to Rajakannu a member of the aboriginal community.
The suspicion doesn’t merely end at this. What is followed is the illegal detention of three members of the community and their systematic torture at the hands of the police. Even Rajakannu’s pregnant wife is not spared from the ordeal. It is here where lawyer K Chandru known for taking up social justice cases free of charge comes into the picture. Here is a not a working-class hero who beats the bad guys to fine pulp akin to many commercial Southern movies. Here is a passive-aggressive figure that Suriya has essayed wonderfully who puts his legal prowess to full use to deliver succour to his clients. His attention to detail, systematic evidence gathering is what sets him apart from his other peers.
The judges also are convinced of the fact that the police have not done a fair job of investigation in the movie. From just getting a habeas corpus petition moved in the court to driving the case to its logical conclusion is a legal battle that one needs to watch the movie to enjoy. The motivated black sheep among the cops have already destroyed evidence, fabricated lies and misled the court. It is the lawyer and the convict’s wife’s struggle to go back and discover the truth one incident at a time. It is here where the director through the use of fine storytelling makes a lasting impression.
It is revealed that Rajakannu has indeed died a custodial death due to torture. However, the protagonist ensures through his continuous perseverance that a precedent is made out of the case so that the system sets a positive example in the future while looking at cases that involve the tribal population. The film indeed disturbs, makes you cry, shudder and frighten due to the sheer portrayal of a brutal system. However, Rajakannu’s daughter asking for a newspaper from Justice Chandru in the last scene and his expression of assurance is a lasting metaphor from the film.
The metaphor actually re-iterates Dr Ambedkar’s slogan of Educate, Organise and Agitate, leaving us with a hope that education will play a positive role in the comeuppance of India’s tribal communities.