Director: Nagraj Manjule
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Tanaji Galgunde, Akash Thosar, Rinku Rajguru
Stars: 3 out of 5
A determined Amitabh Bachchan may take pride of place on the film’s posters, but it’s his ‘Jhund’ or herd of slum dwellers who emerge as the real stars of this biopic.
Nagraj Manjule’s Hindi debut borders on being labelled a docudrama as it attempts to recreate social worker Vijay Barse’s story as the founder of Slum Soccer in Nagpur, an organisation that uplifts underprivileged children through their love for football.
Manjule doesn’t exploit the necessary trappings of a Bollywood production that commands the camera to stay locked on its lead star, but rather gives his story free rein, much like the children who take flight on screen the minute the curtain lifts on ‘Jhund’.
These are boys are girls who are street smart, spirited and pack plenty of sass, slipping into a life of petty crime without hesitation, largely because that’s the only life they’ve ever known.
When retired sports teacher Vijay Borade (Bachchan) spots these kids playing street football one rainy afternoon, with an empty water canister serving as a makeshift ball, it gives him a new lease on life and a goal to rehabilitate them, keeping them away from drugs, alcohol and life of petty crime.
Over the course of the film’s three-hour runtime, we learn about their individual stories, their hardships and joys, while silently acknowledging that a literal and figurative wall very clearly exists towards their acceptance in society.
One of the highlights of the film is a 20-minute football match the kids play against a college team right beyond a wall that conceals the slum’s very existence. These moments bring sheer joy to the screen as you root for these ragged underdogs, who make lack the finesse or experience but make up for the shortcomings with all heart.
The sequence is followed by the film’s most organic take, where each kid is seen sharing his own tragic tale, smiling through the horrors of their reality with a kind of earnestness that leaves you wondering whether such genuine emotion could ever have been scripted.
As the brainchild behind movies such as ‘Fandry’ and ‘Sairat’, each of which served as hard-hitting lessons on social and class divides that plague India, Manjule is a veteran at bringing thought-provoking cinema to the fore without the coming off as preachy.
Yet, as the second half of the movie rolls in, there’s an evident inconsistency in the film’s pre and post-interval narrative. After running a tight ship up until the interval, the bloated second half gradually starts to bring down this ship, almost appearing like Manjule was desperately trying to squeeze in all possible elements of Barse’s life in the lead up to the finale.
Even those lighter moments that painted his ‘Jhund’ with every shade of the rainbow all but disappear in the second half, with the focus shifting to issues like class divides, poverty and social biases. Unfortunately, even the subtitles seem to give up on us during the interactions between a father and daughter from a small village who find themselves facing yards of red tape and mockery when the latter attempts to gain her passport to participate in the Slum Soccer World Cup.
But if you look past the flaws, Bachchan and his herd of merry slum dwellers do score a goal with an endearing effort to entertain in ‘Jhund’, which is a rare commodity these days when faced by the horrors of the world around us.
Don’t miss it!
‘Jhund’ is out now in UAE cinemas.