When you consider that Jana Gana Mana also aims at showing how the storytelling elements play out in forming the perception of a larger social conscience, the way its director Dijo Jose Antony and scriptwriter Sharis Muhammed have narrated the tale is masterly
Story: After a college lecturer’s body is found burnt, it becomes national news when students seeking justice for her murder are confronted by police brutality on their campus. This forces the government to handover the investigation to ACP Sajjan Kumar, who promises the lecturer’s mother that he would apprehend the culprits and see that justice is served within a month. The measures he takes, however, has him battling a legal case with the Human Rights Commission.
Review: Right at the interval of Dijo Jose Antony’s socio-political film Jana Gana Mana, one of its protagonists stares at a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “In matters of conscience, the law of majority has no place.” It’s almost antithetical that the quotation finds a place in a court of law, but that’s what Dijo and the film’s scriptwriter Sharis Muhammed do in Jana Gana Mana – challenge personal and social bias and put forth questions to the audience to get them to take note of various factors – manipulated or genuine – that shape up their perception.
The movie’s core story is about a mother seeking justice for the death of her daughter Saba Mariam (Mamta Mohandas). However, various trials - by the media, cops and then later in a courtroom – reveal different versions of the truth about what actually transpired the night that the college lecturer was killed.
Dijo, who is only directing his second film after Queen, uses a clever approach to narrate the tale, which despite being socially relevant and filled with hard-hitting truths is ultimately packaged as an entertainer. The filmmaker has mainly divided the film into two chapters – one that follows its lead investigating officer Sajjan Kumar, who has been appointed to probe the case after it captures the attention of the nation and the second, while he is on trial. Prithviraj Sukumaran’s Aravind Swaminathan features in the latter half as a lawyer, who also has a past – glimpses of which appear sporadically in the beginning and is then quickly shown in the third act, more as a prologue to a sequel.
Jana Gana Mana is one of those rare big films where all departments fire in equal measure. While Sharis’ script and dialogues are the strength of the film, Jakes Bejoy’s music elevates the movie, by ensuring that all the characters and their plight emotionally connect with the audience. In fact, Dijo has used the music to influence the emotions of the viewers so well. When you consider that the film also aims at showing how these elements play out in forming the perception of a larger social conscience on ‘instant justice,’ it’s almost a masterstroke – where the director uses the very same tactic to prod the viewers to question the factors that manipulate their emotions.
The movie, while set in Karnataka, has a mix of dialogues in Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam, thus allowing the audience to get the sense of its vast canvas. But it also serves to accentuate that the story could happen anywhere in India – and not just in territories defined by a particular language. The core story is a mix of several real-life incidents that have shocked the country at large in the recent years including the 2019 rape and murder of a veterinarian doctor in Hyderabad and its aftermath. The movie also conveys that just because equally appalling horrors that happen every hour in the country go unreported as they are not ‘news-worthy’ enough, it doesn’t mean they deserve any less anger. In fact, it stresses multiple times that the perpetrators use “your silence as their licence”. The makers also shine the spotlight on the media for being the judge, jury and executioner in several cases and influencing the outcome of a larger populace.
Despite being on screen only in the second half, Prithviraj is exemplary in his role as a cynical lawyer. He brings a mix of gusto and anguish to his character’s defense arguments, shaking you to the core and then some. Dijo has also used his character to show the voice of resolute defiance armed with truth, thereby making it stand apart from that of the dissent of the youth. Suraj Venjaramoodu as ACP Sajjan shows he is an actor capable of seamlessly playing any shade. While the reason for his casting becomes apparent, it justifies the character’s overall arc. Mamta Mohandas plays the role of Saba with relative ease, and shows once again why she’s a capable performer in her scene where she confronts the college authorities. Vincy Aloshius and Shammi Thilakan put on surprisingly brilliant performances in the film as a college student seeking justice and a senior lawyer defending a protagonist, respectively.
The technical aspects of the movie – be it Sudeep Elamon’s cinematography or Sreejith Sarang’s editing – serves to magnify the scope of the movie, while never releasing the audience once it gets you hooked, right after the college protests. The film’s casting department too deserves special mention with actors such as Pavan Shetty and Raja Krishnamoorthy being cast in roles that exude power – but of contrasting kind.
That said, the movie isn’t without its flaws. The third act is sloppily pieced together, mainly because it falls for the sequel trap like some of the recent big-budget, star-driven Malayalam films. The past of Prithviraj’s character is almost retrofitted to the story, which would have been better if it was contained in a single film. Also, the pieces of what the viewers get to see from his past isn’t coherent enough until viewed in the second movie and thus only serves in prolonging Jana Gana Mana, which is at 162 minutes long.
Verdict: Wrapped as a gripping entertainer packed with brilliant performances, Dijo Jose Antony’s Jana Gana Mana puts forth thought-provoking questions to the audience and makes for a must-watch, if you are a fan of socio-political thrillers.
Jana Gana Mana is available to stream on Netflix from June 2.