Director: Ali Abbas Zafar
Writers: Sukhmani Sadana and Ali Abbas Zafar
Cast: Diljit Dosanjh, Mohd Zeeshan Ayyub, Paresh Pahuja, Hiten Tejwani, Kumud Mishra
It is 31 October 1984. It is little Prabh’s birthday and the entire close-knit family is discussing the party plans while munching on their breakfast parathas.
A few minutes later, at 9:29 am, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi would be assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards as a vehement reaction to Operation Blue Star. And the life of Prabh and his family would change forever.
Jogi is a tale that unfolds at the backdrop of the three-day brutal massacre of the Sikhs, which started in Delhi post the assassination of Mrs. Gandhi, when the marauding mob would go house-to-house and burn, bludgeon, beat members of the community to death; rage and the thirst for revenge will turn friends and neighbors against one another; and Delhi would burn, quite literally.
Jogi (Diljit Dosanj), our protagonist, along with two of his close friends, Rawinder Chautala (Mohd Zeeshan Ayyub) a police officer, and Kaleem Ansari (Paresh Pahuja) who runs a transport business, bring to fruition an Argo-like daring evacuation of a bunch of Sikhs of the neighborhood. The old and the children are the first to be transported to the safety of Mohali. Kaleem turns one of his trucks into a Trojan horse, while Rawinder gives ‘police protection against the police that were instigating (and literally adding fuel to the fire) the frenzied mob baying for Sikh blood. It is a story of politicians and police colluding and setting into motion a religious riot in the heart of the country’s capital. It is also a story of friendship and humanity triumphing over hate.
“Aim small, miss small”– In the movie, The Patriot Mel Gibson’s character Benjamin Martin, imparts this crucial lesson to his young boys as they point their guns towards the enemy force. Ali Abbas Zafar takes the same approach with Jogi, a harrowing Amar Akbar Anthony redux set against the 1984 anti-Sikh massacre that marks the Gunday director’s return to form, if not a new beginning. Instead of showing the expanse and magnitude of the organized pogroms that engulfed almost the entire North India post the assassination of the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, by her Sikh bodyguards, he keeps his story steadfastly focused on one particular community of Sikhs living in on one colony of the tinderbox Trilokpuri–one of the worst affected Sikh neighborhoods of Delhi along with Sultanpuri, Mangolpuri, and the trans-Yamuna region. And the impact, even with its deeply-political core, is powerful, poignant, and personal. In fact, Jogi is undoubtedly the most authentic and sincere film of Zafar; here the director has the heart at the right place and hardly indulges in the contrives that mark most of his big-budget Salman Khan sagas.
Yes, Zafar uses the clichéd Bollywood trope of a Hindu, a Muslim, and a Sikh coming together to portray the religious harmony that is supposed to be at the core of this multi-religious country. But he never lets it dictate or overpower the story he wants to tell. He, along with fellow writer Sukhmani Sadana, keeps the dialogues minimal and flab-free. There are no preachy or filmy lines and the claptrap is mostly done away with. This helps in keeping the story deeply rooted in reality, at least until the climax, which is possibly the most underwhelming part of the movie.
The director and the writer don’t waste any time getting the audience into the thick of things. He wastes no time building friendships or personal relationships. Instead, we catch the characters in media res. When in a scene a flustered and frustrated Jogi lashes out at Rawinder, who had put his job as well as his and his family’s life at risk, just to save Jogi and his dear ones, one is reminded of all those times we take our friends for granted and unjustifiably vent our anger on people we are the closest to. It is a friendship that has stood the test of time and such outbursts. Although the portion where Lali’s history with Jogi is revealed through a flashback using a long-period-of-subjective time-passing-at-the-blink-of-an-eye plot device of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, might seem a bit forced and a hindrance to the goings-on. But the breezy song that runs in the background helps smooth out the rough edges. Music along with the background score by Julius Packiam and Sameer Uddin are impactful and merge seamlessly with the story, but there are no rousing songs like a Khoon Chala that can become a youth anthem. Steven H. Bernard’s editing is sharp and he keeps the movie taut. The cinematography by Marcin Laskawiec is realistic and proves crucial to the experience.
Dosanj, in and as Jogi, is superlative. He channels his personal brand of simplicity and innocence into the character of Jogi. There is no flourish of a hero. He plays an ordinary man facing extraordinary circumstances to perfection making the character uncomfortably relatable. Ayyub plays Rawinder with a fierce zeal letting his eyes do what a thousand robust dialogues might not have managed. Paresh Pahuja is impactful although his character isn’t fleshed out as the rest of the two. Kumud Mishra plays the conniving police boss, whose main motivation for unleashing the well-planned ‘mob violence’ on the unsuspecting Sikhs, is not vengeance but a plump promotion. And Mishra becomes the Prakash Jha-ish power-hungry character with effortless ease. It is Hiten Tejwani, as Jogi’s estranged friend, Lali, who surprises. The cute Kutumb star has indeed come a long way and evolved into a formidable actor.
Previously, we have seen a similar bond of friendship evolve and put to test on the backdrop of the 2002 Gujarat Riots (an incident now off limits for discussion and hence the makers of Laal Singh Chaddha, a movie that claimed to chronicle the major historical events of the country, conveniently ‘missed’) in Abhishek Kapoor’s 2013 film Kai Po Che! starring the equally fabulous trio of Sushant Singh Rajput, Rajkummar Rao, and Amit Sadh. Even Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s seminal work, Rang De Basanti, saw a group of friends coming together and taking on the corrupt system and questioning government decisions.
Both movies remain acutely and disturbingly relevant. But with pro-government trolls gaining strength in numbers and power, and the general as well as political intolerance taking a more violent turn with each passing day, one wonders if either of these two movies could have been made today. Is that the reason why we have three movies, the other two being Grahan (2021) and Laal Singh Chaddha (2022), set on the backdrop of the Sikh Riots—an incident that might have occurred at the behest of a few Congress leaders and saw the complicity of several central-government officials, who provided voter lists marked with names and addresses of the Sikh residents, along with the Delhi police (according to 2011 WikiLeaks cable leaks as well as the Central Bureau of Investigation)–coming out in such quick succession instead? Or maybe it is just a coincidence.