Retired football coach Vijay Borade’s (Amitabh Bachchan) ability to spot talent in a bunch of youngsters in the slum nearby and his conviction that they could form a formidable football team, not only to represent their country but also channelise their energy to better their lives by giving up violence and drugs, and how he succeeds in his goal, forms the crux of this three-hour film.
Nagraj Manjule’s ‘Jhund’ is not just a motley crowd of talented football players residing in a slum, but real people with real dreams and aspirations. Not ones wallowing in self-pity even though their lives are full of hardships, they are portrayed as a lot who are ready to seize the chance that life offers them. Their sincerity and ingenuity as the characters they essay are palpable.
Yes, the stories are sad and their struggles highlighted, but merely to inspire as the film is replete with life’s lessons.
While in his treatment of the subject, Manjule is focussed and does not waver, with unnecessary backstories or entertainment gimmicks. He spends too much time painstakingly detailing their lives and milieu and making them look unbelievably real.
Post Interval, the pace picks up and unknowingly sucks you into the lives of its characters and their aspirations, making you empathise with them. Characters overcoming their obstacles and making it to the finishing line engrosses you completely.
The film may be termed as a Sports film but is in reality, it is an inspirational one. It arouses patriotic fervour, focuses on emancipation, and has a feel-good factor throughout.
Imbued with several emotional moments the film is all heart. The adrenaline rush in the college versus slum dwellers football match is as real as the time when Don aka Ankush Meshram, receives his passport last minute and dashes to the Airport in the nick of time.
Although subtle references are made to the Dalit inhabitants of the slum, especially in the celebration’s scene, nowhere are the caste aspects dramatically highlighted.
Nowhere does Vijay Borade appear larger than life. He is immensely relatable. Amitabh Bachchan as Vijay Borade, a character based on the life of a retired sports professor Vijay Barse, who founded an NGO called Slum Soccer, strikes a chord in your heart. Not only is his portrayal natural, but immensely believable and endearing. His emotional appeal to the Lady Judge on behalf of the slum dwellers is achingly reminiscent of his charisma and oratorical skills.
All the other ensemble cast deliver pitch-perfect performances, given the characters they are playing. They look and feel their parts effortlessly. Ankush Gedam as Don is lovable owing to his vulnerability, displaying versatility as an actor. Akash Thosar is presented in a new avatar, and Rinku Rajguru too makes her mark.
The music effectively captures and enhances the essence of the film and is almost characteristic of Manjule’s films.
Overall, ‘Jhund’ reinforces that if the intent is good and convictions strong, the impossible can be achieved, and as the slum kids leave for the world championship league abroad, you no longer view them as just a crowd.
Director: Nagraj Popatrao Manjule
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Chhaya Kadam, Priyanshu Kshatriya, Akash Thosar, Rinku Rajguru, Kishor Kadam and Ankush Gedam
Duration: 178 mins.
–By Troy Ribeiro