It takes a humongous amount of courage and conviction to envisage a film like Jallikattu. And a remarkable skill of a great technician to breathe life into such a wild, wild, vision of a village full of men falling into a vortex of unchecked masculinity. It is very unlikely to think of another director except Lijo Jose Pellissery to turn this script into a 90-minute visually electrifying visceral journey into the human psyche.
Pellissery’s Jallikattu is a low-budget spectacle film that tackles big ideas. The film gets its name from a traditional sport of Tamil Nadu, which involves a crowd trying to force a beast into submission. The film believes that the way humans express their primal feelings hasn’t evolved much since medieval times. All it takes is a convenient excuse to unleash our inner savage. Just pay attention to how we conduct ourselves on the city roads. Everyone is in a hurry. We are indifferent to the plight of fellow motorists. We try to establish our dominance even in congestion and break into a fight on a dime. The aggression on our roads is so thick that you could cut it with a knife. The film’s views on human evolution hold good even today.
Jallikattu opens in a small Idukki village, which is obsessed with meat. Say, the town is addicted to its beef delicacies. The day of village butcher Varkey (Chemban Vinod Jose) begins very early. He treks through the mountains to his slaughterhouse in the morning darkness. He slaughters a buffalo with the help of a sledgehammer. And then opens the shop for the business. He does this day in and day out with the help of his assistant Antony (Antony Varghese). The first thing every house in the village seems to do is to buy its usual pound of flesh from the butcher. We even get to see a scene where villagers hang up their plastic carrier bags containing meat on a tree outside the church before joining the Sunday prayers. It is an image you don’t get to see in every film. It is a small detail but tells a lot about the lifestyle of a village that is about to trip itself into chaos.
And then something unexpected happens. A buffalo, which is about to be slaughtered, rebels. In a sense, the rowdy buffalo assumes the status of a mythical hero. The beast rises in rebellion to seek vengeance against humans who have been indulging in violence against its species for years with impunity. One of the villagers even describes the animal as ‘mahisha’, an ancient word which means buffalo demon.
The film is based on writer S Hareesh’s short story, which is named Maoist, no less.
An otherwise dormant animal escapes from the clutches of the death and wreaks havoc in the village. It causes riots, fire accidents, deaths. The chase becomes a hunting sport, where men exert their masculinity to tame the wildness of a defiant beast that refuses to go down without a fight. The night brings out the darkest and the senseless traits of the men in the village. And all the pessimistic passions come together beautifully in this visually dense piece of cinema.
Cameraman Girish Gangadharan (Angamaly Diaries, Solo) takes full advantage of the wilderness of the Idukki landscape and lights up the night shots with torchlights to provide stunning images frame after frame. After a point, you get engrossed in the expanse of the big screen and spiritually become part of the ensuing madness that engulfs the village. As the tension builds to dramatic heights, the mob quickly crumbles under its own insanity.
Legendary director Frank Capra had once said, “There are no rules in filmmaking. Only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness.” And Pellissery could never be found guilty of committing that sin.