Vague Visages’ Joram review contains minor spoilers. Devashish Makhija’s 2023 movie features Mohd. Zeeshan Ayyub, Manoj Bajpayee and Tannishtha Chatterjee. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
The wonderful thing about genre movies is that they provide a kind of universal language that gives audiences an easy entry point into a story, even if the setting is wholly unfamiliar. On one hand, Joram is a deeply Indian daily that submerges viewers in the sociopolitical drama of a very particular time and place — specifically, modern-day India and the struggle of rural citizens who are being driven off their land by rapacious industrialists and into wage-slavery in increasingly overcrowded cities. On the other hand, Joram is effectively a new version of The Fugitive (and a rather good one at that).
Dasru (Manoj Bajpayee) returns home one day to his cramped Mumbai apartment and discovers that his wife has been brutally murdered. With sirens already on the horizon and no chance that the authorities will believe his innocence, the protagonist straps his baby daughter, Joram, to his chest and takes off into the night. From here on out, Dasru will have nothing but his wits and guts to rely on, and no idea who he can really trust.
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Joram’s plot is complicated by various parties trying to track down Dasru, and the wicked web of intrigue that has been spun between them. Phulo Karma (Smita Tambe) is a local politician who seems to wield more power in the shadows than she does in the daylight, orchestrating the hunt for Dasru through a series of late-night phone calls. The full complexity of her relationship to the kidnapped girl isn’t revealed until much later on, when Joram delves back into the history of the village and a tangle of vendettas. The motivations behind police officer Ratnakar (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) are much more straightforward — his boss told him to bring Dasru in, and he won’t be allowed to go home to see his wife until he does so.
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With each of his pursuers hot on his tail, Dasru flees from the dusty streets of Mumbai and leads the police on a thrilling chase through a packed train, finally managing to escape into the countryside. His journey eventually brings him back to the village in which he used to live, or what remains of it, at least. Great mountains of metal and wire now loom where trees used to grow while mining machines bite greedily into the earth. Joram never has to explicitly underline its environmental message, as the imagery enough is to inspire the same aching emotion reflected in Dasru’s eyes.
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Makhija’s direction is excellent throughout Joram, from the propulsive energy he brings to the chase sequences to his mischievous talent for finding novel places to attach the camera. A wistful opening scene sees Dasru and his wife Vanno (Tannishtha Chatterjee) singing and laughing together out in a verdant field while she wheels back and forth on a rope swing, the camera arcing joyfully along with her. The sense of light and space that invigorates this Joram scene is sharply contrasted by the dark, dingy place that Dasru and Vanno are forced to occupy in Mumbai — but even here, Makhija is playful. There’s a sequence in which the parents lie in bed with young Joram suspended in a hammock above them, the camera peering directly down on the trio as Dasru rocks the baby to sleep using a chord attached to his big toe. It’s a quiet, beautiful way of conveying the little spark of happiness and love that they have retained, even in their harsh new surroundings. And it makes it all the more heartbreaking when that spark is finally snuffed out.
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Another brilliant moment sees Ratnakar driving away from a rural village, framed so that viewers can peer through the back window of his vehicle just in time to see the truck carrying Dasru quietly pulling into the very place he is leaving. It’s the sort of wry visual gag that one might find in a Sergio Leone Western (and executed just as well).
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The downside to Joram taking on such a wide range of characters and topics is that this heavy load prevents it from being quite as light on its feet as a “man-on-the-run” thriller should be. Makhija’s film clocks in at 135 minutes, and the final third begins to feel just the slightest bit sluggish, while the finale, conversely, is hectic and perhaps even a little rushed. For the most part, though, Joram does a fine job of immersing the viewer in its sense of place that one likely won’t object to staying a little longer than absolutely necessary.
Ross McIndoe (@OneBigWiggle) is a freelance writer based in Glasgow. Other bylines include The Skinny, Film School Rejects and Bright Wall/Dark Room.
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