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Joram’s Story: After the murder of the wife of a construction site worker and his life being threatened, he runs away with his three-month-old daughter. From that point on, he fights for survival as he runs away from a dark past, a political system and one powerful person who wants to destroy him.

Here is a movie that requires no more than five minutes of your attention to make you realise it will be an engrossing and thrilling ride with Manoj Bajpayee playing Dasru Karketta/Bala leading the way. You know he’s a tribals rooted in their custom right from the first time you see him squatting on the ground under an open sky. He gets it (with face tats) perfectly and holds it until the end, through his dynamic character arcs.

The movie sets off its tone through its opening scene where Jhinpindi tribal couple from Jharkhand sings a folk song about nature while her wife swings on rope. The frame freezes; both swing and couple are gone. A chilling calmness warns you that there is about to be unleashed on this screen. Throughout 121 minutes, intrigue escalates as we watch how they ended up together in Mumbai’s overcrowded shanties five years later or why Bala gets uncomfortable when MLA Phulo Karma (Smita Tambe D Dwivedi) looks at him right in the eye. The film builds suspense gradually while offering high-octane drama because Dasru has to stay ahead of danger by saving his own life and his child Joram. The chase sequence for instance on train from city will fully grab your attention.

Devashish Makhija’s writing is outstanding — call them super tense survival scenes or cruel realities faced by aborigines turned rebels or even man against nature that has now all but finished off ecology — these are among thematically rich layers filling Ajji’s canvas. It also shows us how political leaders and the administration are hand in gloves with mining companies who exploit these tribals like there is no tomorrow. Although some of these themes may not be uncommon, they have been narrated captivatingly such that the tight screenplay which is not once ambiguous or fragmented despite being non-linear. Nonetheless, the initial suspense slips away when the film’s second part delves into socio-political aspect of it.

This political angle of the movie has been well handled by Makhija without being too obvious about where he stands. Even though he depicts a certain perspective on how tribals are losing out and environment is going down due to development, he also brings in another side. For instance, while MLA wants them to enjoy every facility that urban people do, one constable says that rebels and soldiers both wear uniforms for different reasons but we cannot say who is good or bad. The story also talks about those fence sitters between “sympathisers” of rebels and supporters of oppressors know too well. Cinematographer Piyush Puty enhances this drama through his brilliant camera work from tribal life to a running father; cranes and diggers destroying nature; soon-to-be empty green land etc.

Joram has a lot of symbolism too, whether it is Dasru’s wife Vaano (Tannishtha Chatterjee) swaying in the open or the swing made of a saree inside the hut. As he tries to escape Mumbai, an observer asks him, ‘Kuchh dhoondh rahe ho kya? (Are you looking for something?).’ When he reaches Jharkhand, a tribal asks, ‘Kisiko dhoondh rahe ho (Are you looking for someone?)?’ indicating Dasru is running but has nowhere to go. The dialogues are also heartrending.

Manoj Bajpayee does an amazing job as the helpless father fleeing his dark past and bleak present. His moments with his little child will surely move you to tears. Smita Tambe Dwivedi steals the scene as the coldhearted MLA who delivers a nuanced performance as an emotionally wounded but conversely unfeeling woman. Also Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub is excellent while portraying conflicted Sub-Inspector Ratnakar Bangul given charge to capture Dasru. Tannishtha Chatterjee fits well in her cameo role.

Joram is a moving story that will stay with us for long time. Although it isn’t about survival rather a social-political account overtaking narrative structure, this intense storytelling and performances make it required watching material. This poignant film also makes one reflect on how we are treating Mother Nature in the name of development and progress that should be seen on big screen only.

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