TW: Mention of sexual abuse, homophobia, slurs; description of sex
Based on a true story, Anmol Sidhu’s directorial feature Jaggi tackles a gamut of issues relevant to modern-day socio-political discourse—child-sexual abuse, homophobia, and shame.
It has created a stir, especially in the arthouse cinema circles. Most recently it won two awards: Uma da Cunha Award for Best Debut Feature and the Audience Choice Award for Best Feature at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA).
In this movie, Ramnish Chaudhary essays the role of the titular protagonist. He adroitly communicates the hesitation of a young person going through a baffling, yet exciting teenage phase.
As schools in his neighbourhood could only provide middle-grade education, he cycles his way to a new, senior school where everyone is obsessed with sex. But when he quits one day, it doesn’t surprise his parents, as if they knew he wouldn’t put up with the new environment. However, that’s not the case. His parents are disinterested in their child’s life — a major part of the reason why Jaggi’s life becomes what it does.
Trap as a ray of hope
The setting is rural Punjab. And, of course, what happens in this movie isn’t just a small town or village situation, it’s universal. And Jaggi is an everyman.
In Jaggi’s school, which is not a co-ed one, children freely dole out abuse, and talk about who masturbates the most, while some seniors predatorily look out for someone of the same sex — referred to as ‘tempo’, ‘gandu’, ‘launda’ or ‘meetha’, all homophobic slurs — meanwhile they’re not “getting” the opportunity to have sex with the ‘opposite sex’.
An aside: It is mostly people from the oppressed groups of societies who are sexually abused. Be it men or women. And like every other issue, sexual repression and abuse must be viewed from the intersectional lens of caste and race relations.
While being called names and being bullied in school may seem like an everyday thing or a rite of passage that one inevitably goes through, it shouldn’t be lost on us that in a heteropatriarchal world, “looking like” the other gender is unforgiven. Any sign of such behaviour or outlook can get you into trouble.
With Jaggi, however, the issue was different. He couldn’t voice it. And, when he senses two seniors attempting to help him, he thinks he could use some of that and stops himself from opening up about his sexual-health problem to his family, which includes a drunkard policeman, who needs to be helped to find his way to bed at night and be put to sleep, and a mother, who, in the event of absence of intimacy with her husband, seeks out pleasure with the sober brother-in-law.
That’s all a predator has to do, isn’t it? To establish a sense of presence when you need help, to extend the promise that they’re there to support you. And someone vulnerable gives in to this trap, which sadly appears to them as the only ray of hope.
Need for better, sensitive sex education
It shakes you up, seeing Jaggi struggle his way through life in this movie. His silences are bone-chilling, and each one conveys something very deep and piercing—his mother’s betrayal, his peers bullying him, being unheard by his father, and feeling like a failure. All these silences sound different and are expertly delivered by Ramnish in his stellar performance as Jaggi. His dialogues, though far and few between, are chiselled to the tee, too. Their impact is so understated.
The movie’s music is raw. Its loud thuds can be felt as if you’re corked down in this sea of unbearable masculinity and rape culture, finding yourself getting suffocated. But unlike a cork, you don’t bounce back.
Camera movements in this movie, whose tense atmosphere is conveyed by familiar sites of Punjab — like a farm, the tube well, and the countryside, locations that are bound to be cathartic but are agents of horror in this case, also achieve what they intend to. Be it the morning shot where we see someone moving about on the charpoy, from below, as its depression shifts, suggesting one, then two people on it. But something significant is lying on the floor — and it’s that thing that becomes one of the drivers of the movie. A character in itself, so to speak. That something is a condom.
Now, without giving away much, the essential question to ask ourselves after watching this movie is this: How difficult is it to educate the difference between safe and unsafe touch? As children, we can sense it. Our bodies revolt when we experience an unwarranted touch. But because we don’t have a vocabulary to voice ‘it’ or a confirmation that what we feel is exactly what it is and that we can seek help, we are consumed by shame. Only if such concepts are adequately addressed in our non-existent sex-education classes or at home can we avert and address the trauma that one has to go through as a child, like Jaggi. Like me.