“Jogi” is a film set in the background of the 1984 Sikh genocide in Delhi that killed thousands of men, women, and children. Moving as a thriller, the film just uses the entire setting of the pogrom to devise a completely different narrative that is a cat and mouse chase at some points and an evacuation drama at others. In real-life incidents where geopolitics affects a particular community or a region at large, there looms a constant fear of losing it all in the act of turning it into a film. The dramatics, when not used consciously, overpower the political undertones, resulting in a messy film. It is like a meeting of two separate river streams: one coming from the dramatic tendencies and the other carrying the suffering of thousands affected due to what had happened at one point in time. “Jogi” suffers from this to the point that its storytelling is largely affected because the two streams never meet and go along together parallelly.
Drama is an important element used in cinema to delve deeper into the story and bring us closer to the emotional layers. Each shot and its placement in the overall story creates differing feelings based on how it is used by the maker. The medium of cinema was developed in that manner where the type of shot used evoked within us different reactions depending on the context. Certain stylistic devices guide us in a specific direction like how the use of a long shot or a close up invoke varied feelings in different scenarios. To think of the same at the structural level, it corresponds to inserting more conflicts and plot points and then taking things to the extreme in climax followed by a resolution. All mainstream films are somewhat based on this principle, and it may work based on individual decisions. In cases where a real-life incident is to be re-enacted in that structure, things start to get difficult. The aesthetics are meant to be in conversation with the thematic elements of the film so that both can support each other. But when it is just a monologue where the structure of the film is the only thing speaking all along, it creates a huge jolt in how the film is perceived in its entirety. “Jogi” begins by establishing a Sikh locality in Delhi and goes right into the time when the genocide begins. It is also the time when the characters begin to be truer to the narrative that writer and director Ali Abbas Zafar creates than to the actual contextual happenings of 1984. “Jogi” becomes the protagonist with the goal of saving his community from a bunch of bloodthirsty goons. His friend, who is a policeman, helps him throughout. A local politician becomes the antagonist, causing hurdles in the paths of our protagonist. There is also a backstory inserted so as to supposedly make the narrative stronger. This is a pure textbook formula that overlooks the subject at hand thereby making even a real-incident seem fictional.A film is under no pressure to resemble reality, but it does owe a certain level of authenticity and contextualizes that with an interpretation of politics. The motive of political art is to make sense of a shared political reality and interpret it through an artistic exploration that will help everyone see what the creator has seen in this process. “Jogi” ends up doing neither and just becomes a thriller that only drags through the 112 mins of its duration.
“Jogi” is not the only film that has come out in recent years to suffer from such stagnancy. While it is a good idea to base a real-incident on a popular film genre so that it makes for an engaging watch, but is that really how it should be done? It is a question that needs to be asked by everyone having a deep-rooted interest in cinema, whether such exploitation of both politics and aesthetics can be deemed okay by a marriage that fails the very minute it is fixed. A film that aims to go deeper and give an experience that will last will never work on the shallow principles of mainstream cinema made without a certain level of political awakening. The political understanding should give rise to aesthetics of a certain kind that will aim to bring out more nuances instead of shadowing politics completely and driving it in its own way. There comes a moment in “Jogi” when at a pivotal stage, we get to an almost 5-minute flashback only to explain the enmity between two characters. This has no relation whatsoever with what the film is trying to say and neither does it bring to light any new thing in the narrative. If such a specific background of the 1984 Sikh pogrom is decided for the film, then why are not all the narrative devices working in support of fleshing that out more clearly? The film seems to forget its overbearing sense of context when the characters just act in accordance with the drama and are not concerned with the world in which they are set in. It is a complete disjoint and one that neither lets the narrative shine nor the devastating reality of the entire thing evoke any sense of collective shame. Perhaps the makers became aware of this obscurity, and hence a line was added at the end to put out a ‘message’.
“Jogi” is a film that has its heart in the right place. There are instances where it genuinely wants to give out an egalitarian message and it does manage to do that. But this is only in parts, and it falls down in its entirety. Only having a good heart does not automatically make it a good film. Neither does a sensitive understanding of the world alone guarantee a good piece of art. It is only through a marriage of both the aesthetics and the politics that will create a resultant work that will send ripples of thought across. When the aesthetics speak of the politics without much hand-holding; when the politics are set free by the aesthetics, no longer strained within the pressures of any pre-decided structure that guides it all the way. Moving together in a dialogue, the two will constantly give rise to newer meanings, invoking feelings of all kinds while staying true all the way. There is a collective need to understand that resorting to older methods of storytelling and merging them with sensitive political subjects will only create a piece of cinema that is untruthful to the very foundations of the art form and also to the foundations of society. In the pursuit of greater accessibility, an overall essence is lost, which leads to a decline of the art form and also doesn’t enrich the visual sensibilities of the audience. This is a question that should plague filmmakers of the mainstream so that they go on a journey to find their own version of the truth and then make an effort to create aesthetics that make us realize the same. Nandita Das did that in “Firaaq,” Nagraj Manjule in “Fandry,” and many others arrived at their sense of truth through the journey of aesthetics. “Jogi” would also be a perfect film when that happens.