What’s there to watch in a movie that you have already seen unfolding right before your eyes as a sixth grader?
Some memories never die. I vividly remember the plumes of dark smoke rising on the horizon when I darted to our house roof on November 1, 1984 as a 10-year-old. Sikh properties were on fire in the commercial and industrial belt that ringed our locality in West Delhi.
I still remember how my mother dressed me up as a girl and took me to Punjab in a roadways bus later that month.
My home is a 15-minute drive from Tilak Vihar, the neighbourhood of the 1984 widows and survivors.
So what was there in Jogi that could educate me more than I already knew and experienced?
STILL I WATCHED JOGI
I was reluctant to watch it initially because of the depiction of gory violence that took place on the streets of the Indian capital from the night of October 31 to November 3, almost 38 years ago.
Nevertheless, I watched it because I realized the new Sikh generation in Dosanjh’s fan club got glued to the film on Netflix directed by Ali Abbas Zafar.
The movie depicts gory violence that took place in the streets of Delhi almost 38 years ago.
JARRING DISCLAIMER AN AVOIDABLE CAVEAT?
After I hit the play button, I found the movie’s disclaimer plate jarring. “This film is a fictional story loosely inspired by true events,” read its opening line.
“Loosely inspired by true events”?
That typical Bollywood caveat apparently sets the stage for creative liberties that its productions often take on historical subjects, and Jogi in that sense is no exception.
But let’s first talk about what looked less fictional and closer to reality.
PERFECT SETS, JOGI’S 1984 GETUP
Jogi’s sets are perfect. Its Tirlokpuri neighbourhood takes you back in time.
I could immediately identify with two-wheeler scooters, old-fashioned electric meters, Mudrika buses, the police jeeps that preceded Gypsies and the narrow but less congested lanes that existed in the capital back then.
Another striking feature of Jogi is the getup of the characters playing the Sikhs of 1984 in Delhi, especially their turbans. The style is typical of families which had migrated from West Punjab in 1947 and settled in cities outside India’s Punjab.
Jogi’s sets takes you back in time.
Starching the turban, usually made up of muslin or voile fabric five-to-six-meter in length, was common in the 1980s. Jogi played by Dosanjh wears the one neatly wrapped around his head.
That style is less in vogue now. Resplendent turbans in a variety of colours are more common these days. The present-day style involves the six-seven-meter material cut into half and stitched together into a wider fabric. It’s then folded diagonally, the two loose sides rolled in from opposite corners into the middle, and tied around the head.
COMMUNAL HATRED ON STREETS
Those who have grown up in Delhi hearing brazen slurs like “uggarwaadi and atankwadi” directed at them would immediately relate to the scene in which the Sikh protagonist and his father are assaulted in a moving bus by fellow passengers because of their faith.
JOGI NARROWS DOWN THE PLOT
But the movie swiftly narrows the momentous events of 1984, which shook human conscience, down into the story of one neighbourhood in East Delhi.
Exposed to outstanding content on OTT platforms, audiences like me with experience in national and international TV news production would certainly feel Jogi could have been filmed and edited on a wider canvas.
If I was to compare it with Sardar Udham on Prime Video, I would rate the latter’s production quality, especially the filming and edits of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and its aftermath, much higher and more professionally executed.
I watched Jogi because I realized the new Sikh generation in Dosanjh’s fan club got glued to the film on Netflix, writes Harmeet Shah Singh.
Apparently playing safe with the political establishment and the role of a larger state in fuelling hatred and turning that hatred into marauding mobs, Jogi reduces the history of 1984 into the act of a local neta of Tirlokpuri ordering the Sikh killings in the neighbourhood under his jurisdiction.
Played by an actor as fine as Kumud Mishra, this Tirlokpuri neta is heard saying in the final sequence that what he all did or was doing was driven by political ambitions. Else, he had no personal hatred against the Sikhs and that he was a regular visitor to gurdwaras.
The same neta would refer to higher authorities, but the movie fell short of identifying them. Why sweep the role of bigger powers under the rug?
In 2018, when the Delhi High Court reversed the acquittal of Congress leader Sajjan Kumar and sentenced him to life in jail for his role in the 1984 massacre, Justices S Muralidhar and Vinod Goel noted there was a “familiar pattern of mass killings” in Mumbai in 1993, in Gujarat in 2002, in Kandhamal, Odisha, in 2008, in Muzaffarnagar in UP in 2013, “to name a few”.
“Common to these mass crimes were the targeting of minorities and the attacks spearheaded by the dominant political actors being facilitated by the law enforcement agencies,” the High Court noted.
Jogi, therefore, falls short of expectations in diagnosing the scourge in a broader sense. The communal climate we see now has had its roots in the 1980s. Only the victims have changed.
Further, the flashbacks that Jogi delves into — about his relationship with the sister of a cop friend, her pregnancy and suicide and the cop’s revengeful attitude — are another Bollywood-type distractions in a film supposed to be dealing with a sensitive subject.
A MUCH-NEEDED MOVIE FOR NETFLIX GEN
That said, Diljit Dosanjh pulls Jogi through with aplomb. And so do Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub playing a good cop, Hiten Tejwani as a bad-cop-turned-good, and of course Kumud Mishra.
For all its flaws and characteristic Bollywoodism, Jogi still serves as a relevant production for the Netflix generation.
It may not be one of the best classic historical films produced cerebrally, but the movie is still a meaningful step in educating the present breed about the toll hatred afflicts on humanity and the scars it leaves behind.
— ENDS —