Manoj Bajpayee shines in a riveting tale of survival and socio-political intrigue

History: When a construction site worker’s wife is brutally murdered and his life is in danger, he flees the scene with his three-month-old daughter. He then fights for survival while escaping a violent past, as well as a system and a powerful person who wants to crush him.

Review: Here is a film where you only need a few minutes of viewing to know that you are in for a thrilling and intense watch along with a great performance by its lead, Manoj Bajpayee who plays Dasru Karketta/Bala. When he first appears on the screen, squatting on the floor under the open sky, you are convinced that he is a tribe rooted in the culture. He gets the look (with facial tattoos) and demeanor perfect and has a tight grip on it until the end and through the various phases of his rich character arc.

The opening sequence sets the tone of the film, with a tribal couple from Jhinpindi, Jharkhand singing a folk song about nature while the wife sways on a rope swing. When the frame freezes, the swing and the couple have disappeared. The nervous silence warns you of a storm about to be unleashed on the screen. Throughout the 121 minutes, the film consistently builds intrigue, starting with how the couple ended up in a cramped shanty in Mumbai five years later, or why Bala is nervous when he comes face to face with MLA Phulo Karma (Smita Tambe D Dwivedi). The film gradually unravels the mystery while serving up edge-of-the-seat drama as Dasru is on the run trying to save himself and his baby, Joram. The chase sequence on a train when he tries to skip town will totally grab your attention.

Writer-director Devashish Makhija excels in presenting a layered narrative – the super tense survival scenes, the stark reality of the tribes and rebels or the conflict between man and nature that destroys the ecology. It also depicts how politicians and authorities are in cahoots with mining companies that relentlessly exploit the tribes. While some of these themes are not new, the storytelling is enticing, and while not linear, the tight script is not once confusing or fragmented. However, the initial excitement subsides as the latter half of the film shifts its focus to the socio-political side of the story.

Makhija handles the political aspect of the film well and refrains from overtly taking sides. While he shows how the tribes are shortened and the environment destroyed in the name of development, he also reveals another perspective. The MLA wants her community to enjoy all the facilities that the townspeople do, and one of the constables says that rebels and soldiers both wear uniforms for different reasons, but one cannot judge who is right or wrong. The narrative also sheds light on how those on the fence also have a hard time, as they are labeled as ‘sympathizers’ of rebels or supporters of oppressors. Cinematographer Piyush Puty heightens the drama with his excellent camerawork, whether it is depicting tribal life, a father on the run, cranes and diggers plundering nature or what the green land will soon look like.

The film is also full of symbolism and meaning, whether Dasru’s wife Vaano (Tannishtha Chatterjee) is swaying in the great open or the swing made of a saree inside the hut. As he tries to escape Mumbai, a bystander asks him, ‘Kuchh dhoondh rahe ho kya? (Are you looking for something?).’ When he reaches Jharkhand, a tribal asks, ‘Kisiko dhoondh rahe ho (Are you looking for someone?)?’ indicating that Dasru is driving but has nowhere to go. The dialogues are also heartbreaking.

Manoj Bajpayee is excellent as the helpless and hapless father running from his dark past and gloomy present. Scenes of him bonding and caring for his baby will tug at your heartstrings. Smita Tambe Dwivedi steals the show as the cold-hearted MLA. She delivers a nuanced performance as an emotionally wounded but otherwise callous woman. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub is also excellent as a conflicted sub-inspector Ratnakar Bangul tasked with catching Dasru. Tannishtha Chatterjee plays her role well in the special look.

Joram is a gritty tale that will stay with you for a long time. Although it deviates from being a survival drama as the socio-political facet overpowers the narrative, it is a must-watch for its intense storytelling and performances. The poignant film will also make you think about what we are doing to Mother Nature in the name of development and progress. It deserves to be seen on the big screen.

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