Jallikattu (2019) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): A mass rampage surrounding one water buffalo

“Jallikattu”, which was selected as India’s submission to Best International Film Oscar in last year, is one hell of experience you have to see for yourself. At first, it simply looks like a merely chaotic absurd comedy revolving around one big silly hunt, but then it is gradually turned into something much more intense and ambitious, and I must tell you that I was quite mesmerized by a number of awesome moments during its last act.

The opening sequence promptly sets the tone of the film along with a series of edgy percussive sounds and disturbing vocal sounds on the soundtrack. Jumping from one close-up shot from another, the movie introduces us to a various bunch of people living in a rural village located in some remote mountain area of Kerala, India, and the repetitive shots of the daily work of a local butcher and his assistant Anthony (Antony Varghese) let us gather how important his routine daily supply of water buffalo meat is to many of village folks.

When the butcher and his assistant are about to slaughter his latest water buffalo during one early morning, a little trouble happens. Although we do not see how that exactly occurs as the camera thankfully observes them from the distance, that water buffalo to be slaughtered runs away anyway, and then it inadvertently causes a big fire in the middle of the village. Once they manage to extinguish the fire in the end, many people in the town soon embark on finding and then killing the water buffalo because they do not want it to cause any more trouble.

However, the situation turns out to be a bit more challenging than expected. While it does not take much time for the village people to find the water buffalo in the forest surrounding the village, the water buffalo keeps evading them, and it continues to cause more troubles in the village. Like “Jaws” (1975) does not show that shark much during its first act, the movie also often restrains itself from showing its water buffalo on the screen, and that is why this water buffalo’s occasional sudden appearance is dramatically effective as shown from one tense action sequence unfolded on the main street of the village.

Anyway, it becomes quite clear to the villagers that they need some more extra help, but the local police officers are not particularly willing to use their firearms just because they are not allowed to do that without any official permission. When a local poacher named Kuttachan (Sabumon Abdusamad) enters the picture later, the villagers are certainly delighted and excited, and this dude, who looks as confident as Robert Shaw’s character in “Jaws”, announces to them that he will track down and then kill the water buffalo within a short time.

However, it is subsequently revealed to us that there is an old grudge between Kuttachan and Antony, and the movie goes back to when Antony worked along with Kuttachan under the local butcher. Because he and Kuttachan were vying with each other for getting the affection of a certain young woman, Antony decided to play dirty a bit, and Kuttachan, who was consequently kicked out of the village at that time, still does not forgive what Antony did to him at that time.

As these two characters frequently conflict with each other, the villagers zealously keep hunting for the water buffalo as before, and the movie steadily accumulates more tension and anxiety on the screen as pushing them further into more frenzy and madness. When a group of people from some other village come later in the story, the mood becomes all the more volatile in the village as these people often clash with some of the villagers, and, again, the local police do not do anything about decreasing the tension among people – until something really serious inevitably happens to their vehicle.

Although it is initially a bit confusing for us as the screenplay by S. Hareesh and R. Jayakumar, which is based on Hareesh’s short story “Maoist”, busily bounces around so many different characters besides Antony and Kuttachan, director Lijo Jose Pellissery and his crew members keep holding our attention via their impressive technical achievements. The cinematography by Girish Gangadharan is astounding in its fluid and masterful camerawork during several impressive extended shots in the film, and the editing by Deepu Joseph dexterously sets the staccato narrative rhythm of the film along with the deliberately blatant score by Prashant Pillai. In case of the water buffalo in the film, I have no idea on how much of it is real or CGI, it functions fairly well as one of the crucial elements in the story, and you may actually come to feel sorry for this unfortunate animal, which does not seem to have any malice at all while simply trying to follow its survival instinct.

So far, I have restrained myself from describing the consequences of the mass human madness so vividly and absurdly depicted in the film. I can only tell you that the movie virtually goes all the way for sheer chaos and horror along with its numerous human characters during the last act, and the result is utterly intense and overwhelming to say the least. I will not go into details here, but, in my humble opinion, what is so strikingly and singularly presented on the screen around the end of the film may be appreciated a lot by Werner Herzog, who once said our civilization is starving for new images.

In conclusion, “Jallikattu” is unforgettable for its stupendous intensity coupled with a dark sense of humor, and it also shows us a bit of another distinctive cultural side of India as one of the recent notable offerings from Malayalam cinema, which is the Indian film industry based in the southern state of Kerala. Yes, as reflected by several scenes in this impressive Mollywood film, there are a considerable number of Christian communities over there, and that will certainly remind you again of what a complex country India really is.

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