Devashish Makhija’s short films as well as features examine subjects as varied as misogyny and corruption. Moreover, these themes are viewed through a sort of patriarchal lens that often infuses itself in the never ending cycle of political retribution. Amongst his features, while “Ajji” tackled rape and its horrendous aftermath, the National award winning “Bhonsle” looked at a host of issues including societal isolation, social justice and the plight of migrant workers. With “Joram,” Makhija’s ability to weave a textured psychological and sociopolitical story reaches its full potential.
I say that, because even more so than “Bhonsle” – a film that I had some reservations about – he trusts his audience enough to wait for the answers while letting his aplomb filmmaking gradually inform the story through the harrowing tragedy at its front and center. The film tells the story of Dasru, played by Manoj Bajpayee, who works as a construction worker in Mumbai originally from the Eastern region of Jharkhand.
He labors in the hopes of providing for his wife and a three-month-old daughter. But the struggling family has a past – one that gradually catches up to them as the state nationalism in Mumbai amps up – leaving Dasru wanted by the police for a crime he didn’t commit. On the run now from both the real killers as well as the police, Dasru makes a desperate attempt to return to his hometown to settle his issues. But he’s not all alone; he carries with him his young daughter, the titular Joram, while escaping everyone and having no one to trust.
In his career best role yet, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub plays Mumbai police officer Ratnakar – the cop hot on Dasru’s tail. He’s in charge of the unenviable task of having to clean up all the messy situations the manhunt leaves in its wake across borders. But the more Ratnakar gets exposed to Dasru’s past life, the more he finds out of his identity while realizing why he did what he did. He’s a righteous man determined to uphold justice, but slowly finds himself in the center of an entangling loop of relentless exploitation of tribal locals and the corruption within his own police force.
It takes extraordinary effort to not fall into the temptation of having an actor as talented as Manoj Bajpayee overshadow the rest of your film. Makhija’s frequent collaborations with the actor continue to work extraordinarily because of that mutually shared understanding. And yet, Bajpayee manages to give one of the best performances I’ve seen in any film in awhile. There’s an intense shadow hanging over his eyes, one that speaks of vulnerability, while also informing the viewer of the tragedy that he’s lived through.
Even after escaping the tall skyscraper dwellings of Mumbai where he could never find his home, his presence continues to be dwarfed by the high electric towers of the countryside. You feel for his Dasru not because of that, but despite him still being naive to fully comprehend his worth in being able to shift the political game. The tragedy stays in how unfairly he’s been treated all his life, that it’s become routine. All he can do is run.