STORY: Former sports coach Vijay Barse invests his time and hard-earned money to train underprivileged kids in football, to keep them away from drugs and crimes seeded in Nagpur’s underbelly.
REVIEW: There’s a pink-and-white wall, with iron fencing in most parts. It has a gate, which is locked and is being guarded to bar people from the adjacent slum to cross over to the other side where the educated and wealthy families dwell. That image, metaphorically, indicates the zone that this film is venturing into. It’s underlined further with the closing visual of the film, where an airplane is seen flying right above the hutments of Mumbai’s slum area.
Nagraj Popatrao Manjule’s Jhund is not an outright sports biopic, even though it follows the usual beats of a good sports drama. The film is a commentary on what we as a society can do to help the have-nots identify their plus points and cross the boundary to leap onto the other, brighter side. Amitabh’s Vijay Borade (modelled on Vijay Barse, a retired sports professor Vijay Barse, who has trained countless street kids in football and formed an NGO Slum Soccer) speaks adequately about it in a crucial part of the film, set in Nagpur’s bylanes, shot wonderfully (Sudhakar Reddy Yakkanti). The camera slickly romances the city’s landscape, especially the jhopadpatti (slum) where most part of the film is set.
Although the proceedings in this piece begin at a modest pace, they pick up wind in no time. Vijay Borade is on the cusp of retirement from his job as a sports professor in college, but in no mood to hang his boots yet. He’s motivated enough to conduct adult education classes in his house for the locals at his own expense. The opposition from his son, aiming for education abroad, is evident but understated. When kids in a neighbouring slum catch Vijay’s attention while playing football with a plastic barrell, he begins to coach them in the game, which gradually distracts from their life which is riddled with crime and drug addiction. But how far does he really go? Do they all give up their life in the dark alleys of crime and addiction? Do some of them or all of them get a chance to leap onto the other side? All this and more is answered through in the near-three-hour runtime of the film.
As a writer and director, Nagraj Popatrao Manjule manages to hold one’s attention for most part of the film, however, the pace slackens in the second half, and it could do with a tighter edit. Also, what one does rue is that the pre-interval is high on energy and the post-interval run is high on drama – a balance there could have earned the film a few more brownie points. There is a smattering of some colourful characters in the first half which adds to the energy and even induces humour. While the narrative moves addressing several issues, there is adequate effort to show some engaging on-field sports, too. The arcs and story-loops for every spotlighted character have been crafted well; again, it would have had a greater impact a lot more if the editing was more focussed.
One of the centrepieces of the film is the subtlety with which several issues including caste divide, societal judgements, class difference, economic difference and women’s education and rights are interspersed into the screenplay. The downside is that some of these issues divert the attention of the proceedings, breaking the overall rhythm of the story.
Words are seldom sufficient to describe how wonderfully Amitabh Bachchan aces the roles he chooses to play. This time, he’s a retired sports professor who, despite hurdles and financial shortcomings, invests himself and his hard-earned money to protect and nurture kids from the slums of Nagpur. Here again, he has perfect and complete command on every scene where he appears – never overshadowing his team of players, always adding more power to them. What also gets your attention is the confidence with which over a dozen kids and young adults, like Ankush (also Don/Ankush in the film) perform. They hold your attention well despite being untrained actors. They are extremely convincing in the parts for which they have been cast. Rinku Rajguru and Aakash Thosar (seen in Nagraj’s Sairat), despite smaller screen time lend able support to the rest of the cast.
To sum up, this one’s a dramatic sports film, which may not have the typical thrilling moments around every corner for you, but the point it tries to drive home will definitely kick your insides hard.
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