Thoughts on Jallikattu – What distinguishes the hunter & the hunted?

Midway in Jallikattu, when a buffalo that escaped the slaughterhouse falls into a deep pit amidst a dense forest, Antony, takes credit for it and claims he has trapped the animal. It is apparent that he is not the one who did it, yet, he tries to take credit for that. Why, though? The answer is obvious – he is human. And, Lilo Jose Pellisary exhibits, if not study, more such traits and the chaotic human nature.

The film begins with the people, whom we’ll be witnessing in the narrative, waking up and opening their eyes. This is followed by a stretch with the hills and a day at the butcher’s shop. Editing is a craft that I’ve always found hard to talk about or even praise. One just cannot call editing of a film ‘good’. Because it is an unseen craft, unlike cinematography or music. 

Tip: If you ever read a review that says ‘Editing is good’ or in most cases – ‘Editing is crisp’; that ain’t an actual critic you are reading. Because editing cannot be simply called ‘good’ or ‘crisp’, it is a way too complicated craft to be described in one word.

The editing of this sequence, in particular, is very much in sync with the film that it looks like a great and peculiar fusion of an artist and music composer coming together to make a music video. With the sound design and editing going hand in hand, the opening sequence of Jallikattu is a reminder of the magic of this Audio-visual art form. And the credit goes to the editing.

Jallikattu, in my own terms, is an incident-based drama. Meaning, the whole film takes place around an event or incident. The incident sets the conflict, brings in the characters and drives the narrative to its endpoint or goal. In this case, as told, the buffalo running away from the slaughterhouse is the incident, and chasing down that buffalo and killing it is the goal. This simple plot adds in layers of subtext that talk about human nature.

Throughout the film, people roam around in hoards; the animal is all by itself. They are aggressive and hot-blooded to kill the animal. But every time they face the animal, the fear it strikes and their eventual failure to tame it is clearly visible. It is the human’s nature to brag about handling an eventuality that they come across and miserably failing to take control of the situation when actually facing it. We all have been there, haven’t we? Civilization is what distinguishes humans and animals, the hunters and the hunted, I believe. But the line that separates the animal and the humans slowly disappears as the narrative moves forward. A character even calls humans- two-legged beasts. This one line sums up the whole film. This even backed up with a physical altercation between two people, which essentially looks like two wild animals fighting. And this altercation happens in a forest, too.

In Jallikattu, the characters do not matter. They are just people, and there are hoards of them. If I had to define the characters, there is an animal, which is the protagonist and the human race, which is, you know what. Because all the humans in the film share the same characteristics, they are identifiable with each other more as a species than on an individual level. From the film’s perspective, they matter only as a species, as individuals, they don’t. The cinematography supports this aspect. There are very pointing the individuals. Very few. I can count the number of closeups I can recall, only two. Most of the shots are wide with dozens and dozens of people.

Jallikattu will make you think how barbaric humans can be, and the music reflects this aspect. When I saw ‘Acapella’ during the opening credits, I was curious. With the film exploring human behaviour, it took me a while to understand the significance of employing this particular style. And it is a very interesting choice. Perhaps, it is the first time I’m seeing in which the music, apart from underlining and elevating the emotion, reflects the themes of the film and talks about what the filmmaker is trying to convey. Brilliant choice.

There is a particular thing I wish they hadn’t done. While the film is something to be experienced and interpreted by the viewers, there is a scene where the ultimate motive of the film is visually conveyed in the very last scene. The film has done a terrific job in doing what it had to. Apart from engaging in the hunt for more than 96 minutes, it spoke a lot. I just wish they had not underlined it and said what they desired to achieve with the narrative. The message is clearly conveyed even with that underline’s exclusion. But if underlining adds value, I don’t mind it. I’m already more than satisfied.

Jallikattu is more than what appears to be. It demands a watch.

Jallikattu is a Malayalam language film by Lilo Jose Pellissery, and is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Watch the trailer of the film right here:

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