In a pivotal scene in Sooriya’s Jai Bheem, the brash cop Perumalsamy (Prakash Raj) explains how and why he had to smash the fingers of a rogue youth to keep him off an innocent girl’s back. So stern in his belief, he comes off as a no-nonsense boomer who believes his real world experience is beneath the naivete of woke activists. Sooriya, who himself had played this rowdy cop role to critical acclaim in his past blockbusters is nimble here, and his Chandru counters Perumalsamy’s coarse world weariness with informed nuance and empathy. It takes elaborate narrations by the tribesmen of their painful stories of enduring police torture to change Perumalsamy’s attitude towards quick justice. This is the kind of paradigm shift that Jai Bheem hopes to cause in its audiences and it mostly succeeds.
Bharadwaj Rangan called this a “crybaby film” because he found the depiction of torture too loud and melodramatic. But this is a film that puts its message ahead of itself deliberately. This is not a film that invites the audience to think along itself. The film had its judgements much before it takes us into a courtroom. It takes the liberty to assume we are asleep in our cocoons and attempts to violently shake us. And for that, yes it resorted to easy tricks in the books that a better film may have not be enticed by, but what do we have to complain when it has managed to keep us engaged?
Perhaps Jai Bheem shouldn’t be seen as a standalone film. It happens to be in succession to films like Asuran, Karnan, Pariyerum Perumal, Kala and Sarpatta Parambarai and hence inherits their rage. Perhaps it can be attributed to the nature of the times we are living in, that for a film that takes up the reality of caste, a mere objective social assessment is no good and that unless it vibes with a righteous anger, it cannot say anything of significance. These films will eventually get to nuances but not before they made their arrival to mainstream acknowledged with fervour and urgency. That’s what critics like Rangan missed to see.