Diljit Dosanjh, the protagonist in the Ali Abbas Zafar directorial, titled Jogi, has come out and said that a film like this should be dealt with, with a lot of sensitivity. And we couldn’t agree more. The horrifying events of 1984 left a blot on the history of the nation. Thousands died, and those who survived couldn’t ever forget the horrors that they witnessed. Whatever the cause may be, it is always the common man who suffers. Everybody knows who the culprit is, who is the one taking leverage of the situation, who is the one inciting it, and who is the one abetting it. But more than often, we cannot do anything about it. In front of a corrupt system, unwilling to provide any sort of assistance, an individual feels incapacitated and debilitated. In that moment of eternal truth where a person sees death approaching, he either perishes, or something changes inside him forever. Such historical events have always been a provenance of meaty stories for filmmakers and writers. It is so because a writer gets to build upon an already existing conflict and enhance it further cinematically. “Jogi” tries to recreate the horrors of the Sikh Massacre that happened after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
“Jogi” is the story of a man who tries to save his family and his community from the hatred that was burning the national capital down. There were strict orders to slaughter each and everybody who wore a turban. Amidst all this chaos, the only thing that people could rely on to see through the fog of animosity were the bonds of friendship. Ali Abbas Zafar is very clear about one fact: he wants to create a stylized and dramatized narrative, and there is nothing wrong with that if executed proficiently. But the problem arises when the stylized execution gets in the way of the impactfulness of the screenplay. It acts as an obstacle, and truth be told, it dilutes the potency of the events. When Rakesh Om Prakash Mehra, adopted for a slow-motion flashback, in “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag,” the eerie setting and a haunting background score elevated the scene and left us aghast. But the slow-motion action sequences in “Jogi” unnecessarily dramatize the scene, make it less compelling, and most of all, hamper the pace at which the events should have been narrated to maintain their poignancy. “Jogi” suffers from bad scene structuring and ineffective creative decisions that do not have the desired impact on the screen. We are talking about an almost genocide kind of situation, one of the darkest hours in the history of our nation. The imagery should have haunted you, but it is so adulterated by gimmicky creative choices that you just snap out of the make-believe world and lose interest. The director abstained from opting for rawness, which I believe would have brought out the essence of what he was trying to do in a much better manner. It in no way means that I favor rawness over stylization. I believe that if done properly, both execution techniques can have the desired impact.
I am compelled to refer to two scenes from different films, both directed by Shoojit Sircar. In the climax of the 2013 thriller “Madras Cafe,” we see that the director opts for a dramatic background score that wells up the cross and match cuts. Whereas in Sardar Udham, in a scene where the protagonist is trying to find the people who are alive amidst a pile of dead bodies, the director gives an ample amount of space to his actor and leaves the scene untampered for the sheer savagery to seep inside the audience. “Jogi” isn’t able to do both. You literally feel bad seeing the scenes that could have been so marvelously depicted just go in vain. The art direction and the production design of the film are so synchronized and tidy that it fails to give the feeling of a chaotic atmosphere. There is a neatness in turmoil, too, that just doesn’t go well with the scheme of things. The biggest letdown of “Jogi” is its story. The writers, Sukhmani Sadana and Ali Abbas Zafar weren’t able to decide upon what they wanted to say. Yes, the film uses the 1984 riots as the backdrop, but it is completely clueless about what it wants to do with that.
There is nothing authentic about the story or the characters of Jogi. The subplots in such sensitive dramas demand fastidiousness. But it is appalling to see that the subplots not only lack imagination but are extremely unoriginal in nature. The best thing about Jogi is the acting performances that try to keep it afloat, in spite of sincere attempts by the writers to drown it completely. Diljit Dosanjh (Jogi) is in extremely good form. He fills in the gaps left by the screenplay and brings about a kind of ease and realism to his performance. It’s not about what he does when he is speaking his dialogues, but what he does when he is not. His nuances, and his body language, make you feel that he belongs to that world. He is ably supported by the ever-reliable Mohd. Zeeshan Ayyub (Inspector Rawinder Chautala) and the captivating Kumud Mishra (Tejpal Arora). Hiten Tejwani, as Inspector Lali Katiyal, also plays his part efficiently, though he is not given much to do apart from the stereotypical tropes.
“Jogi” is not so bad that you can mock it, and neither is it so good that you can get entertained. It is an uninteresting and mediocre effort that is unable to establish its intent. It suffers from poor script. You may watch it, but it is not going to tell you anything that you already don’t know.