If there is any doubt about Diljit Dosanjh’s acting skills, Jogi should clear them once and for all. The singer-turned-actor delivers one of the best onscreen performances by a Bollywood leading man in recent times, bringing out vulnerability rarely seen in commercial Hindi cinema. He is deftly supported by a strong support cast and director Ali Abbas Zafar’s sensitive touch. It’s a well-made film on a sensitive issue that forces you think, even if it does go slightly overboard at times. Also read: Diljit Dosanjh on reliving 1984 riots on screen in Jogi: ‘These are stories I grew up with’
Jogi is set in Delhi’s Trilokpuri neighbourhood and depicts a three-day period immediately after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984 that started a wave of anti-Sikh violence in the city. The story focuses on the titular hero, played by Diljit, and how he makes sure over a hundred of his community members escape Delhi even as a bloodthirsty local councillor and corrupt cops are out to slaughter them for political gain.
There have been many Indian films on the 1984 violence, most of them in Punjabi. But mainstream Hindi cinema has had few retellings of the horrors of that year. Jogi attempts to correct that and makes a bold choice by setting the story in the national capital so that it hits home harder. The film does not waste any time in exposition or long-drawn back stories of the characters. The ‘action’, if I may put it that inelegantly, begins in the first 10 minutes itself. Amidst shots of burning DTC buses and neighbourhoods, the true horrifying face of a riot is displayed. This is the only part of the film that goes a bit overboard. However, I do understand the need for it. Director Ali Abbas Zafar chose to pause on the violence and stay there a bit–bloodied corpses, burning men et al–because he needed the audience to understand what is at stake here.
Amidst all this chaos, Diljit stands out. The beauty and finesse with which he brings out the helplessness and vulnerability of his character would make any accomplished actor proud. Diljit carries this part of the film on his shoulders effortlessly until some formidable actors step in to share his burden. There is a scene, which is shown in the trailer as well, where some people beat up Jogi and his father in a bus. A hapless Jogi screams, “Hamari kya galti hai (what is our fault)?” That line and its delivery by Diljit physically pinches you.
Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub is at home, once again, as the idealistic cop who must ensure his friend Jogi and his family are safe even as his superiors want to score political brownie points by calling for a massacre. But its Kumud Mishra who is the scene-stealer with his fabulous act as the local councillor masterminding this massacre. The actor shows the true human motivation of a villain, making him a relatable but still disgustingly vile character. And there is Hiten Tejwani springing up a surprise with a truly unpredictable grey character as a cop with a vendetta against Jogi. He stands out in this crowd of formidable performances. Amyra Dastur has what can only be described as a cameo, in a flashback that sheds more light on Jogi’s character and history. Wish there was more of her and Jogi in the film.
The biggest achievement of Jogi is that it depicts all characters as human beings–flawed and broken–but humans nonetheless. There are no knights in shining armours and no evil demons. Even the bad guys are not religious fanatics but political opportunists, depicting a reality that has played out far too many times in modern-day India. There have been better films on communal violence but very few as layered and as real as Jogi.
The action and thrill are relentless, even if there are times when the film resorts to using some predictable tropes. But the film never lags, never lets go, and doesn’t descend into the unwatchable territory for any reason. Its under-two-hour runtime helps keep it taut. It does get a bit dull towards the second half as it begins to repeat itself and the plot does tend to meander before a swift resolution that does seem like an anti-climax out of nowhere.
The film may be unpalatable for some given its realism and bold depiction of administration’s complicity in violence against a community, but it is an important watch nonetheless, and a step forward for Hindi cinema. Jogi releases on Netflix on September 16.
Director: Ali Abbas Zafar
Cast: Diljit Dosanjh, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Hiten Tejwani, Kumud Mishra, Amyra Dastur, and Paresh Pahuja.