Starring Amitabh Bachchan
Written & Directed by Nagraj Manjule
Jhund gets it right… Eventually. While it finds its way out into the light, there is plenty that Jhund gets wrong. The slum-soccer theme goes from dream to scheme with scarcely a scream . It all happens too abruptly: one minute we see Vijay Borade(real name Barse)scrutinizing the slumboys as reformative cases. The next thing we know the boys are rallying around their soccer messiah , their distrust and disdain magically alchemized into a deep commitment. Soon after they are playing that decisive match: you know, the one where the underdogs will beat the football snobs on the field while the two coaches from the two sides speak of their teams with the protective ferocity of lions guarding cubs.
But the pre-intermission match just goes on and on, and on. And yet barring one, we barely get an opportunity to get to know the slumkids closely. Sudhakar Reddy Yakkanti’s camera moves restlessly through the congested lanes. Even on the field it scarcely stays still, moving from one young underdog to another capturing more the spirit than the flesh, so to speak.
Curiously, a Sardarji shows up in the slum team at the match although he was never shown to be part of the pre-match football sessions. In fact, the pre-intermission match should be cut by half. It doesn’t hold your attention. And those shots of an old man cheering them from across the wall are not only unnecessary, they are annoying.
The wall, that Mr. Bachchan so passionately speaks about in his climactic monologue(no recent film of his is complete without one of those) is crucial to Jhund. In one of my favourite shots of the film, as the slum footballers take off to play in Georgia, we see a sign on the wall saying no one is allowed to go beyond it .
Sadly, the film, builds its own wall dividing the audience from the slumkids that the film so obviously cares about. There are too many of them to create any empathy let alone a back story for each. The only underdog who makes an impression, a deep one at that, is Ankush Gedam. As a smalltime dada who finds a goal (pun intended) he should have remained central to the drama, as he is in many ways.
Ankush’s rapport with the reformative professor will remind you of Anil Kapoor and Dilip Kumar in Yash Chopra’s Mashaal, except that Ankush’s performance is far more lived-in than Kapoor’s. Ankush’s penultimate sequence at the airport as he nearly misses his flight to freedom will have you holding your breath and holding back your tears.
Elsewhere a subplot about a rural female football player Monika(Rinku Rajguru, the heroine of Manjule’s classic Sairath) trying to get a passport to play in Georgia, is moving in its own right. Rinku’s tanned skin-colouring is a puzzle, though. Unless dark is the chosen colour of under-privilege.
Jhund, true to its title, crowds the plot with too many characters including a divorced Muslim girl with three child who wants to play football. Admittedly there should have been a stricter quantity-control. But the quality of integrity, the sincerity of this film’s purpose never wavers. In spite of its zigzagging progression and its tendency to be fidgety rather than focused Jhund keeps you invested in the lives of these underdogs till the end. In short, it’s a privilege to share the lives of these underprivileged.