OTTplay Logo
settings icon
profile icon

Jaggi Review: Anmol Sidhu’s boundary-pushing, blistering portrait of sexual repression in rural Punjab

Ramnish Chaudhary’s lead performance is one of the best, bravest, and most scalding turns in recent memory

Jaggi Review: Anmol Sidhu’s boundary-pushing, blistering portrait of sexual repression in rural Punjab

Last Updated: 07.28 PM, May 17, 2024


Story: The film revolves around Jaggi (Ramnish Chaudhary), a schoolboy in rural Punjab, who is beset with impotence and is assumed as gay, sparking a horrific cycle of sexual abuse and trauma.

Review: There’s no space for dialogue, be it in his family or structures outside it. If and when Jaggi attempts to share his anxieties with his parents, he is hushed up. He is reassured he mustn’t worry and that things will perfectly pan out. Most crucially, they seek to determine first who else is privy to the information. Its privacy is more necessary than finding a way to properly engage with it. Jaggi explores the chilling scope of what can unfold when a process of communicable healing takes a backseat to misplaced, skewed notions of tainted machismo.


The horror in this film is unrelenting. Violence and abuse inflicted on Jaggi are constant, and unending, spanning several years as Jaggi becomes deeply withdrawn. Each act of violence drives him further inward and isolated. His guardedness especially stems from how persistently he has been taught, encouraged, bullied and ultimately coerced into absolute silence. The threats furiously lobbed at him h him back continually. If he resists or dares to call out his attackers, he is warned it will be him who is going to be publicly branded as gay and made the butt of ridicule. The film, which opens with a disclaimer of it being based on true events, covers the years between 2008 and 2012. Yet, of course, there has barely been a positive evolution from then.

Disgrace and dishonour crystallise as the central reasons behind the dread. Jaggi aims its scalpel at an entire ecosystem; a larger culture of toxic, vitiated and systemically embedded abuse and repression comes under the film’s scanner. The spectre of vicious masculinity shrouds the entire film. As much as Jaggi may seek to free himself from the pervasively sickening atmosphere, he too becomes contained within it. Jaggi reminds us frequently of the corrosive nexus binding dishonour and hyper-masculinity.

His mother’s illicit relationship with his uncle plays out in the background. It is fodder for a lot of gossip, which Jaggi tries to ward off and ignore. When Jaggi directly stumbles across its evidence, he feels betrayed but doesn’t articulate any of his resentments. Instead, he spies as his mother surreptitiously tosses sleeping pills into his dinner so that she can conduct her nocturnal trysts undisturbed. Gradually in the film, Jaggi’s wariness of his father’s impotence and mother’s affair gains curdled momentum.


Sidhu is adept in tracing and situating the unremitting torment of Jaggi within social contexts that branch out wider beyond the ambit of a claustrophobically punishing boys’ school. The virulent homophobia and harassment are laced with a gut-wrenching inevitability. Jaggi drops out of school to escape but the abuse shows no signs of abating. There can’t be an understatement of what a tough and merciless viewing experience Jaggi makes for. We are put through the wringer, forced to watch in a long, unbroken take the first of what would become a habitual string of rapes committed by two school seniors upon Jaggi. Then we are subjected to yet another unsparing montage. These sequences are loaded with the capacity of putting viewers on the fence. It teases troubling, necessary questions on the power of the camera’s position as a tool of witness but also potential re-oppression. Whether Jaggi’s agony is unerringly reflected or assaulted furthermore within such hard, unbending framing is likely to be contestable ground.


Jaggi is a quiet and mostly passive character. His naivete makes him doubly susceptible to unspeakable manipulation and molestation. On several occasions, the film singles out and underlines his innocence. This is a character that could have easily devolved into someone who’s only victimised and stripped of the barest vestiges of dignity. While such an assessment wouldn’t be entirely off the mark considering the cycle of horrors routinely visited on Jaggi, Ramnish Chaudhary’s astonishing, bravura performance deflects it all, combining skin-prickling vulnerability, an utter nakedness of the soul and unblinking commitment. Rarely in Indian cinema do we encounter a performance of such full-bodied, fearless absorption into a character. The film is divided across Jaggi’s school years and post-dropout. He chops off his long hair, which had been weaponized by his classmates and thereby slotted him as queer. Chaudhary is almost unrecognisable in the transition. His performance excellently and quietly evokes how Jaggi has curled up into himself even deeper with time and continued abuse. Needless to say, the decision to crop his hair has no impact. The bestiality that breeds through sexual deprivation and acute frustration endures, taking new forms and popping up even in people whom Jaggi thinks he can trust and talk to (nevertheless, only to a certain degree). Safe spaces are nowhere to be found.


Therefore, Jaggi is unwaveringly grim. Tragedy seeps through its bones. The dour atmosphere of the film lifts only fleetingly in the final stretch right before we are plunged into a coda that pushes the film’s strict denial of any redemption to its extremes. Jaggi also feels unshakably limited in places. The character’s interiority finds utterance in a rather ineffective, sorely underlined voiceover, the use of which especially grates in the ending. Then, there is also a particular use of score that is initially striking but borders on superfluity.


Verdict: Despite a few minor hiccups, Anmol Sidhu has crafted a blazing, purposefully disturbing film, which fully leaps into the repulsive breadth of its study without a trace of pussyfooting. Anchoring every beat of Jaggi’s heart-sinking and stomach-turning journey, Ramnish Chaudhary is devastating and unforgettable.



    Get the latest updates in your inbox