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Jaggi Director Anmol Sidhu On Growing Up Around Abuse In Punjab & How It Shaped His Film

Based in Punjab, Jaggi portrays the upshot of sexual repression and hypermasculinity. It also lays bare the skeletons of a state that has been routinely romanticised in mainstream Hindi cinema.

Jaggi Director Anmol Sidhu On Growing Up Around Abuse In Punjab & How It Shaped His Film
Jaggi director Anmol Sidhu (left), and the poster of his debut film (right)

Last Updated: 03.02 PM, May 29, 2024


ANMOL SIDHU does not believe in offering respite. Jaggi, his debut feature film, is a portrait of patriarchy that unfolds with hostile relentlessness. The filmmaker depicts the story of a young boy burdened with the demands of masculinity. Through unbroken long takes which go on forever, he also seeks our participation in the narrative of abuse as a bystander and accomplice. The implication is clear: if Jaggi can be any of us, then any of us can be held accountable to (un)make a Jaggi. 

Despite the broad outline, Sidhu’s story has specific cultural undertones. Jaggi is based in Punjab and through its unsparing portrayal of the upshot of sexual repression and hypermasculinity, the Punjabi-language film also lays bare the skeletons of a state that has been routinely romanticised in mainstream Hindi cinema. The familiar sight of mustard fields, where numerous Hindi love songs are shot, is transmuted into a hideous space of abuse. 

Jaggi (a terrific Ramnish Chaundhary), the eponymous protagonist of this bleak tale, is a student when we first see him. Hormones and perversion are pouring through the walls of his all-boys school. His friends freely talk about the pleasures of masturbation. Jaggi feels none of it. He confides in a friend and the latter broadcasts it. A moment of vulnerability takes the ugly shape of public shame. Sidhu keeps tracking Jaggi as he stumbles through life and places his mortification next to another story of repression where his impotent and drunk father cannot satisfy his mother. He sees her navigating this fraught system, which has equally crippled him, and thwarts her. Patriarchy, after all, beads patriarchy. 

Anmol’s outing premiered at the Indian Film Festival Of Los Angeles (IFFLA) in 2022 and won the inaugural Uma da Cunha Award for Best Feature Film Debut and the Audience Choice Award for Best Feature. The film recently dropped on MUBI and on that occasion, both the director and the actor spoke to this correspondent. Edited excerpts:


Many things stand out in Jaggi but chief among them is the gloom which pervades the frame and hangs over Punjab. It reminded me a lot of Randeep Jha’s 2023 Netflix show, Kohhra. How much was it deliberate?

Anmol: I intended to keep things as real as possible and not so much as subvert the popular depictions of Punjab. Having said that, it is true that the way Hindi and even some Punjabi films depict the state is superficial. There is this visual from my childhood where a young boy was taken away by others. I wanted to recreate that.

Have you seen such stories of abuse growing up?

Anmol: A lot. I have heard and seen it, and it is the same even now. When I came to shoot the film I heard that a boy had shot his whole family. Once I started digging deeper, stories of abuse came up at the forefront. I have been in Chandigarh since 2013. I thought that these instances happened in the past but clearly not. I spoke to people around me and stitched together two or three stories to stitch together the tale of one Jaggi.

Still from Jaggi. YouTube screengrab
Still from Jaggi. YouTube screengrab

Ramnish, how did you prepare for this role? The film jumps timelines from when you are in school to when you are grown up. You look so different like two actors playing the role.

Ramnish: When I was finalised for the role, I completely surrendered myself to it. I used to have lots of conversations with Anmol. I have built this character with him.

Anmol: We shot this film for 12-14 months. We took a break for 6 months for his look to change and the weather. Ramnish lost a lot of weight which contributed to him looking that different. We also did not have money.

What I found most fascinating is that there are technically three protagonists: Jaggi, Jaggi’s mother, who is living through her own sexual repression, and the girl Jaggi is supposed to marry, who is a victim of abuse.

Anmol: When I was editing the film it struck me that each of them has a different story and their space. But I wrote the story around Jaggi. He is at the centre of this story. During my childhood, I used to be unwell and stayed at home a lot. I didn’t have many friends. When I started doing regular classes in 11th and 12th, I found it hard to fit in. There was a loneliness that accompanied me and that helped me be empathetic to someone like Jaggi.

There is also the question of gender. We largely see women at the centre of stories which deal with abuse.

Anmol: Yes, being a man helped me understand Jaggi better.

Still from Jaggi. YouTube screengrab
Still from Jaggi. YouTube screengrab

You employ a lot of long takes which add to the discomfort.

Anmol: I connect with long takes a lot personally. With the rape scene, I wanted people to feel at least 1 per cent of what Jaggi was going through. I designed the close-ups to take the story forward but I like to shoot characters from a distance in long takes.

The first long take (with which Jaggi opens) was one of the later scenes we shot. Except for the rape scene, all the other long takes were done by my DoP (Pardeep Taina is credited). It was difficult because we did not have much time. When I was doing it alone, it used to take me 2-3 days but after the professional DoP came, it was done halfway. We had a small crew, mostly comprising Ramnish and Harmandeep Singh (another actor in the film). Ramnish would check the continuity and Harmandeep would assist me with the shoot. They lived in my house. My mother would feed us. They did the sound design.

It sounds like a collaborative process...

Ramnish: Yes, it was very collaborative in all aspects. We did everything together.

Ramnish, how much of your perspective on abuse changed after essaying such a character?

Ramnish: It changed a lot. I have grown up in a conservative family and have seen such things growing up. But after going through the process, my gaze towards abuse became clearer.

Still from Jaggi. YouTube screengrab
Still from Jaggi. YouTube screengrab

Currently, there are filmmakers like Gurvinder Singh, Ivan Ayr (dir of Milestone) who are bringing forth a distinct language to Punjabi cinema. What are the filmmakers whose films you grew up watching?

Anmol: Anurag sir (Kashyap), has been a huge influence. Due to him, I am making films. Growing up I had epilepsy so the doctor had advised me not to watch television. Most of the popular Hindi films like Sholay, Kal Ho Naa Ho I haven’t seen. By the time I was in class 10, I got a little better and started going to the theatre. Anurag sir’s films also started coming out then. I could connect with the realism of his work. Other than him, I have been influenced by filmmakers like Cristian Mungiu and Alejandro González Iñárritu. 

Anmol Sidhu's Jaggi is currently streaming on MUBI India.

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