“Beyond words of support to justice, the court’s silence towards injustice is more dangerous.”Chandru
A Tamil legal drama that doesn’t water down its politics, Jai Bhim is a blistering attack on India’s caste system and police mistreatment of tribal peoples who find themselves falsely imprisoned to improve crime statistics. Based on a real case from the early 1990s, the film explicitly names the Irular tribe, spending the opening half hour focused on these landless labourers before the legal case begins. The brutal police beatings are difficult to watch, Rajakannu refusing to give a false confession because of the stain it would leave on his family and the tribe who are dependent on work from the village. Star power can easily derail a film like this but Suriya (who also produced the film) does not treat it as a mere vehicle — his performance is for the most part understated and earnest, notwithstanding his introduction vaulting a protest barrier and marching into court to music befitting a superhero. Although the soundtrack includes a number of prominent songs, Jai Bhim wisely eschews dance numbers or artificial action, trusting that the tense courtroom scenes will hold audience attention, broken up by the wider investigation. Although Lijo Mol Jose is required to engage in a great deal of melodramatic wailing as Senggeni, desperately searching for her husband, she also presents the quiet determination that ultimately drives the character, including a particularly powerful scene in which she rejects an attempt by the State to buy her off — this swerves the trope of the lawyer as an external saviour. Jai Bhim succeeds then because it remains true to its story of overcoming indifference to obtain justice, whilst still catering to a wide audience — attentive viewers may be a step ahead, but explanatory dialogue from other lawyers in the courtroom ensures that no one is left behind.