The Malayalam film – Jana Gana Mana starring Prithviraj Sukumaran, and Suraj Venjaramoodu dropped on OTT few weeks ago after what I hear was a theatrical hit. I also got prompted by few friends of mine to watch this film and so it was with heightened expectations that I watched the film.
Within few minutes into the film, we realise that this is a film as much as a political commentary. The film is set in Ramanagara, a small town in Karnataka. But soon we see a Tamil politician (talking in Tamil), TV reporters (reporting in Malayalam/Tamil/Kannada), a Mallu Senior police officer and his team speaking in dialogues interspersed in Malayalam, Kannada and Tamil! There is a character who is portrayed as a student leader with name “Gouri Lakshmi”! And this is a Malayalam film. If you now connect the dots, one can realise that the makers (Writer Sharis Mohammed and Director Dijo Jose Antony) make no bones of the politics of the film and their craving to talk loud about it.
As I mentioned, the screen play is strung together with a lot of real-life incidents including how the society reacts positively and favourably to a staged encounter killing of a group of men accused of rape and murder of a young lady. The twist in the tale comes in the second half when in a high-pitched court room drama, it comes to light that the real culprit was someone else and the staged encounter was just a convenient way out for a politician to win his next electoral battle.
Jana Gana Mana has got the basic story line right which is, talking about the futility of fake encounter killings and mob justice in a civilised society and how the trend can be milked by politicians. But falters in its execution. First, Malayalam films are known for their subtlety and realism. Here, the court room scenes take us back by a few decades and reminds us of the loud, verbose, melodramatic court room scenes of the 80s/90s Tamil/Hindi films. Second, in trying to pack too many things in the film, the narrative gets muddled up. Why can’t this film be set in Kerala itself? I get that “Karnataka” is brought in for a “right” reason in which case, the Inquilab Zindabad cries could have been “left” out, isn’t it? Third, with too much screen time spent on setting up the politics of the film in the 1st half, the film runs out of time at the end to explain the back stories of the main protagonists, their motivation and so on. All this are rushed up.
Having said that, the film still keeps us engaged to a large extent thanks to the performances. Suraj, who as I have mentioned in the past is one of the finest actors in Indian cinema, once again plays the role right in its meter throughout. Prithviraj just like his dad Sukumaran aces with his dialogue delivery that too in multiple languages in the court room scenes. His screen presence stands out throughout. The lady characters played by Mamta Mohandas and Vincy Aloshious also stand out. It was good to see ‘Kitty’ Raja Krishnamurthy back on the big screen as a judge.
Jakes Bejoy is having a run of his life I must say. His background scores in many of the Malayalam films including this, have become an integral part of storytelling of late.
At the end, one can make out that the makers have put a hook for a sequel. I hope that the sequel is made with a sense of storytelling that is more honest to the theme rather than to the maker’s politics. As far as this goes, I would put as a decent watch particularly for those who are interested in current affairs and court room dramas. It is streaming now on Netflix.