In Indian cinema, there’s a Goa that we are used to seeing: beaches, coconuts, little shacks, rave parties and foreign tourists soaking up the sun. Curiously enough, this culture is actually a small part of the larger region’s culture, and what is seen to be a “sub-culture” of Goa’s agricultural lands — populated by immigrant labourers — is actually the majoritarian culture of the land. The former Portuguese colony, driven by the cashew liquor industry, attracts a lot of labourers from the rest of the country who do labour-intensive jobs that native Goans wouldn’t deign to do. The word the Konkani-speaking Goans use for immigrants is Ghati — which literally means “people from the Ghats” (meaning the plains) — but it’s a word that has gone on to carry derogatory connotations of being uncultured and ignorant. Miransha Naik’s debut feature, Juze, is set in 1999, in a Goa village called Borimal where poor immigrant and native labourers all live under the tyranny of a vicious slumlord.
Juze (Sudesh Bhise) beats up workers, rapes women and holds an inexplicable grudge against the teenager Santosh (Rushikesh Naik), who prioritises getting an education over slogging it out in the field. Santosh’s father is in jail for murdering his mother, and he lives in the plantation with his old grandmother, Ajji (Prashanti Talpankar). Not only does Juze mistreat his workers, but he also flouts every labour law in sight and extorts money in the name of rent. In a strange turn of events, Juze ends up needing Santosh’s help in tutoring his son who is struggling to remain afloat in school. Ironically, both father and son (who can barely pass school) call Santosh “Dumbo.” Juze’s wife, bored in her marriage to this hateful man, threatens Santosh with her power and exploits him sexually. Juze and his wife are basically the same kind of people who exploit the poor and demand sexual favours from them, under the threat of violence and power.
As Naik recalls in a director’s statement, men like Juze are abundant in the villages of Goa. Their atrocities know no bounds, so much so that a lot of immigrant labourers end up in jail on charges of not being able to withstand the torture, and they eventually murder their slumlords. Juze effectively shows the paranoia that powerful Goan natives propagate through their violence; it’s a paranoia that gets passed down from one generation to another and keeps every rebellion in check.
Most Indian states, being divided on stark linguistic and regional lines, share a two-pronged relationship with the poorer labourers that come in looking for work from other states; they thrive from, and depend on, the work these communities do and yet get possessive about “outsiders” taking up all the jobs — jobs they themselves perhaps don’t have the talent for, or any inclination to do. Naik’s narrative effectively brings out this divide amongst communities; one can easily discern between the natives and immigrants by the language they speak. The natives speak Konkani while the newer immigrants speak Hindi. There is a scene where Ajji goes looking for a room but is unable to find any; “We are not immigrants, you know,” she says. There is a complex hierarchy that runs parallel to the obvious class hierarchy between Juze and the rest. Naik skillfully and sensitively undercuts this when he shows how men like Juze indiscriminately treat the poor; Santosh gets treated the same way as Raghu — a native and an immigrant — so what is the real point of this divide anyway?
Juze, with its serious undertones, is also a teenage high-school love story between Santosh and Maya. “Do you have a boyfriend?” he asks her on the walk back from school one day, and she replies, “No, I was waiting for you.” When Maya says she can’t walk all the way, Santosh steals a bicycle. He starts washing his uniform and cycles her to a fair. And then when Maya sees Juze beat Santosh up, she is left unimpressed by his lack of bravado and moves on to be with another motorbike-owning classmate. Santosh’s final act of rebellion, wherein he picks up a long piece of bamboo and beats Juze to pulp, is as much a show of heroism for Maya as it is his political revenge for all the years of oppression. When the moment of rebellion finally arrives, Juze’s wife is turned out of Maya’s home and his son is slapped. They’re finally made to see the might a large group of people can accumulate when they lose their fears.
When Santosh, having been at the top of his class consistently, has to give up school and take up a job waiting tables in a restaurant that serves tourists, Juze’s tragedy fully emerges; the tragedy of losing bright young minds to the mindless fight we keep on fighting in order to preserve our social hierarchies. When Santosh walks a Swedish tourist home, the films conveys that hundreds of people like Santosh feed Goa’s tourism industry — what meets the general touristic eye actually runs way deep, across deep seated lines of class, communalism and regional politics. Juze tells the story of an India we don’t often see in films, but an India that hurts, suffers and yet revolts and thrives.
Bedatri Datta Choudhury (@Bedatri) grew up in India and has studied Literature and Cinema at the University of Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru University and New York University. She moonlights as a writer and likes writing on films, gender and culture. She lives in New York City and loves eating cake.