At a time when indie cinema is gradually but definitely making a mark in India, it's heartening to note that spanking new stories concerning rural India are being backed by Studios and getting showcased at prime multiplexes. I earnestly feel, a number of stories with a rustic backdrop, highlighting the lives and tribulations of those residing in the countryside, ought to be given exposure. If there's an audience for masalathons that are aimed at the hoi polloi, there's an audience for realistic/inspiring cinema targeted at the more discerning viewer as well.
I must confess, the stunning theatrical trailer of JAL was the hook for me to look forward to the film. Since JAL has made the rounds of the festival circuit, a section of the film industry *might* write it off as a 'festival film', with minimal/zilch 'commercial prospects'. But let me correct those who think that way: JAL is *not* art house cinema. Sure, it narrates a rustic tale, but it is as much 'commercial' as a commercial film would be. The only difference is, this is *not* a no-brainer.
Conversely, there's a tiny section of viewers who feel that just because a film has won acclaim at festivals, it is unblemished, flawless and faultless. The question is, does JAL work as a standalone film?
First, the premise! Set in the Rann of Kutch, JAL narrates the story of Bakka [Purab Kohli], who has the knack for discovering water in the desert. The story takes a turn when an animal activist, Kim [Saidah Jules], shows up at the village. She seeks Bakka's help to find water for the dying flamingos. A pump is installed to trace water for the flamingos, but there's no concern for the thirsting villagers. It is at this juncture that the drama begins, with the devious Puniya [Mukul Dev] hatching a conspiracy to destroy Bakka.
An attention-grabbing premise, JAL encapsulates varied emotions and human traits in its narrative, besides highlighting the all-pertinent issue of water scarcity. Girish Malik, who makes his big screen directorial debut with this film, wastes no time to introduce his characters and the problems they face, creating a tale that packs fact and fiction wonderfully. Aiding Girish in creating a stunning canvas on screen is the DoP [Sunita Radia], who captures the parched land brilliantly on celluloid.
The story unravels slowly initially, gathering speed only towards the post-interval portions. The serpentine turn of events, the captivating drama and the episodes leading to the culmination are enthralling and camouflage the minor aberrations that you encounter at times.
With the kind of opulence and magnificence director Girish Malik puts on display in JAL, the film doesn't come across as one made by a debutant. His command over the subject matter and the craft is incredible. The connect with the issue is tremendous as the film rakes up ecological and environmental issues, besides drawing your attention to the natives and the location. You ought to have abundant courage to choose a subject that defies the stereotype and for that alone, Girish needs a pat on his back.
One has witnessed the Rann of Kutch in several movies, but the director and DoP make sure they paint a spectacular image on canvas. The dehydrated land, the scorching heat, the desiccated stretch, the twisters leave you awestruck. Another aspect that deserves brownie points is the background score, which enhances the dramatic and emotional impact of the movie.
Hiccups? Like I pointed earlier, the story takes it own time to unravel initially. In addition, the slow pacing [first half] as well as the run time [slightly above 2 hours] could've been shortened for a hammer-strong impact. However, these are passing clouds in an otherwise sunny film.
It's hard to to take your eyes off the actors, since each and every act in JAL is natural to the core. The effort is all the more laudable since the actors must've worked in extreme conditions, faced dust storms, yet attained the level of perfection that's rare. Purab Kohli, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Kirti Kulhari, Mukul Dev, Yashpal Sharma, Ravi Gossain, Rahul Singh, Gary Richardson and Saidah Jules, each actor slips into his/her part effortlessly. The septuagenarian, Habib Azmi, brings about the much-needed humor with a class act.
On the whole, JAL makes a rock-solid impact. It's poignant and powerful and I suggest, you take time out to watch this truly gripping fare.