Inspired by the real- life story of Nagpur based Vijay Barse, who founded ‘slum soccer’ ,Nagraj Manjule makes his full length hindi film debut with ‘Jhund’.
If you have seen of any of Manjule’s work in Marathi, you must be aware of his unmatched expertise in filming the rigid caste and societal divides in the country, and he does this with anger, empathy and high impact. Jhund also, is built in a similar environment.
The film opens with a drone shot of Nagpur city with focus on a wall. On one side is ground, part of a sprawling slum area. Children and youngsters here survive on petty crimes, drugs, alcohol etc. On the other side is a posh football ground of a school, the privileged come here in fancy cars and uniforms. Amitabh Bachchan as Vijay Borade, a coach nearing retirement dares to cross this wall and witness the slow death of youth on the other side and decides to act on it. What follows is an exciting invention of slum soccer that breaks not just this specific boundary in Nagpur but many such walls in many districts, cities and states of the country.
The world that Majule builds is authentic, and it is evident that it comes from an insider. Unlike any Bollywood film, there are many non-actor faces that don’t need heavy make up to look their part. A little guy with colored hair covering half his face introduces himself as Hrithik, another bulky looking fairly grown up guy prefers to be called ‘Angel’. These young men and women carry their identities, mannerisms, style everything with 100% conviction, hence you are compelled to buy into their lives in the first 10-15 mins of the film. The first half is packed with humour, wit, action and the typical high points of a sports film. In-short super-entertaining.
The second half though shifts gears and experiments with a mix of ‘documentary- style’ filming in a commercial film. The pauses are longer, the camera moves slowly and there are silences left for interpretation. One beautiful scene where these protagonists pour their hearts out to their coach, almost feels unscripted. On the other hand, the monologue by Amitabh Bachchan in the court, felt awkward and unimpactful. The narrative then explores the select individual struggles and brings us slowly to a Majule style high riding climax. Extra points for the Nagpuri slang that stays absolutely on point from start to end.
Talking about a few things I did not like about Jhund. The first half is paced well and packed with action, whereas second half dies down on the energy. I wish the high and low points were more evenly spread. The songs were disappointing and the length could have been shorter.
Jhund is an important film, high on realism and emotion and despite Amitabh Bachchan is driven by the story and not the star.
Going with 3.5 /5 cutting for this one.