Jallikattu Review: Lijo Jose Pellissery does the impossible!
‘Jallikattu’ is a traditional spectacle practiced historically in Tamil Nadu where a bull is released into a large crowd and participants grab the large hump on the bull’s back in an attempt to stop it. Lijo Jose Pellissery’s latest film of the same name is not exactly about this sport but has some similarities. So a buffalo brought for slaughtering in a hilly village escapes and runs amok causing widespread devastation. The enraged men in the village and from neighbouring areas join in a massive hunt for the buffalo, through the course of which we get to see the two legged animals in their real form.
Based on S Hareesh’s short story ‘Maoist’, Lijo Jose Pellissery has attempted to make a film that explores the beastly side of man. The film has a run time of only around 90 minutes but within such short duration, the makers have successfully pulled off sequences that are unseen before in Indian cinema, leave alone Malayalam.
The makers have intended to show how humans are ultimately animals whose inner beastly instincts are caged within due to the restrictions of living in a civilized society. Once they are pushed beyond a point, the civilized attire is ripped apart and the animal within wakes up. This is what is exactly shown in ‘Jallikattu’
However, if you belong to that section of the audience who are constantly on the look for a logical reasoning, the film doesn’t offer one. After a point I couldn’t stop myself from thinking why the men in this remote village in Idukki are so aggressive and violent. What triggered them to such highly levels of insanity that even turns into sort of what we call cannibalism?
Alongside the buffalo hunt, the film also touches upon multiple themes. Pride is the focal point around which the film revolves. The villagers are irked by the arrival of outsiders as they feel it is an insult to their capability (masculinity). Antony is always trying to prove a point or two before the villagers. Sophie (Santhy Balachandran), the only named female character in the film, likes to be with the most masculine guy around. She despises Antony; she resists him while he tries to overpower her physically. But when he claims to have tamed the wild animal all by himself, Sophie falls for him. This is another peculiarity of the film. There is no black and white, everyone is grey, regardless of the gender. And aggression defines them. Here only the buffalo is sane because its only intention is to survive.
As a filmmaker, Lijo Jose Pellissery is well known for extracting the best out of his actors. In a film like ‘Angamaly Diaries’ with around 85+ newcomers, he brought out nothing but the best in them. But when it comes to ‘Jallikattu’, the performances are extremely shoddy. Save for a stellar Sabumon and some seasoned actors like Chemban Vinod and Jaffer Idukki, none of the others make a mark.
Actors are usually the primary tools in storytelling. It’s their performances that help us get closer to the film and root for the characters. Antony Varghese, who is supposedly the lead in the film, has worked with all his might physically and deserves appreciation for putting in such hardwork. However, when it comes to conveying the emotions, he looked totally out of place. Likewise, the numerous extras who appear throughout the film were all amateurish.
There lies an unwritten rule in cinema. However extraordinary the technical quality of a film is, it should always be seamless. It should never stand above the totality of a film. In the case of ‘Jallikattu’, it’s the contrary as the focus is more on the brilliant technical aspects and as an audience we are spellbound only by that. There’s no emotional connectivity at any point. We constantly think about, how the hell did they manage to pull it off? But the question of ‘why’ still remains.
Unbelievably athletic cinematography by Lijo’s go-to-man Girish Gangadharan helps translate the director’s vision on screen perfectly. Deepu Joseph’s swift cuts, Prashanth Pillai’s eerie score and surreal sound design by Renganaath Ravee altogether means ‘Jallikattu’ is a film that will leave you awestruck in theatres.