Jogi Review: Diljit Dosanjh Shines To The Extent Possible In Generic Rescue Thriller

Jogi Review: In recalling the horrors of the anti-Sikh riots, it does manage to generate some tension and disquiet but by the time the film gets to its business end, monotony sets in.

Jogi Review: Diljit Dosanjh Shines To The Extent Possible In Generic Rescue Thriller

Diljit Dosanjh in a still from Jogi. (courtesy: YouTube)

Cast: Diljit Dosanjh, Kumud Mishra, Mohd Zeeshan Ayyub, Hiten Tejwani, Amyra Dastur, Paresh Pahuja, Neelu Kohli, Mikhail Yawalkar, Saurabh Chauhan, Sadanand Patil

Director: Ali Abbas Zafar

Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)

Bloodthirsty mobs unleash danger, dread and doom in the plot of Jogi, directed by Ali Abbas Zafar with a story and screenplay co-written with Sukhmani Sadana and set during the three days of the Delhi riots of 1984. Out of the mayhem emerges the titular hero.

Above all, the action drama that could best be described as an appreciably watered-down version of the director's big-screen thrillers (Tiger Zinda Hai, Gunday) is about friendship that transcends religious divides at a time of great unrest.

Fear hangs over a city in flames as murderous marauders fan out with petrol cans with the intention to burn and loot. An intrepid young Sikh man takes it upon himself to rescue his under-siege family and neighbours as rioters close in on them. Two friends, a Hindu and a Muslim, lend the man a helping hand.

Predictably, it isn't smooth passage for the trio. A smarmy politician - he has no qualms about seeking to further his ends at the cost of innocent human lives - and his goons as well as a couple of cops with an axe to grind are determined not to let the hero succeed in his mission. In a police station basement, they conspire to raze an East Delhi colony of Sikhs to the ground.

Jogi, streaming on Netflix, is a generic rescue thriller constructed with pieces that are anything but original. The film makes light of the pain and suffering of the victims of the 1984 riots and uses them as raw material for a shallow, bland action melodrama intertwined with an ill-fated love story that is sprung on the audience late in the film for the purpose of delivering a surprise twist.

On the morning of October 31, 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is fatally shot by two of her bodyguards. As the news spreads, her supporters go on a calamitous rampage across Delhi. That is where fact ends and the film enters the domain of pure fiction. Three buddies who grew up together close ranks when Sikhs are singled out for vicious attacks.

Their chances are slim as a catastrophe looms large over Trilokpuri's Lane No. 6 but they are willing to risk all to save the men and women who have lived there in peace and harmony for generations and are now, for no fault of theirs, in danger of being wiped out.

Jogi plays out over the three days that it took Indian Army boots to hit the streets of Delhi and bring the situation under control. As all hell breaks loose, Delhi Jal Board employee Joginder Singh (Diljit Dosanjh), resident of Gali No. 6, Block 32, Trilokpuri, East Delhi, decides to put up a fight unmindful of the price that he might have to pay for his bravado.

Aided by policeman Rawinder Chautala (Mohd Zeeshan Ayyub) and transporter Kaleem Ansari (Paresh Pahuja), Jogi plans to take his family and a group of other Sikhs to the safety of Mohali as a vitriol-spewing Trilokpuri municipal councillor Tajpal Arora (Kumud Mishra), armed with a copy of the voters' list, instructs his men to ensure that no Sikh in his constituency is spared.

Jogi, in recalling the horrors of the anti-Sikh riots, does manage to generate some tension and disquiet - the atmospherics that cinematographer Marcin Laskawiec evokes come in handy here - but by the time the film gets to its business end, monotony sets in and the tale runs out of steam despite being dotted with tragedies.

The principal characters, including Jogi, aren't fleshed out sufficiently and backstories to underscore how deep the bond between Jogi and Rawinder is, are ill-advisedly dispensed with. A flashback from three years ago, when the boys were in college and a girl named Kammo (Amyra Dastur) gave one of them a reason to fall in love, reveal the circumstances in which a wedge is driven between Jogi and his college mate Laali Katiyal (Hiten Tejwani), a rupture that comes back to haunt the two men.

While it is easy to make films and web shows about cataclysmic events that predate the era of the current political dispensation, every return to past decades of India's contemporary decades contains the possibility of a timeless cautionary tale. When hatred assumes all-consuming proportions, humanity and the nation lose. Jogi conveys that home truth albeit in what looks like an incidental way.

"I don't understand," an emotionally shaken Jogi says as the situation spirals out of control, "why these people are so full of hatred and vendetta." He is caught unawares but there is no reason to believe that Jogi does not understand why men turn into monsters when instigated to act against their human instincts. Rawinder, as taciturn as ever, replies, "Nobody is born with such feelings of vendetta."

A little later in the film, the man fanning the flames, Tejpal, explains his nefarious strategy and puts in perspective his cynical exploitation of an opportunity to incite violence against a particular community and benefit politically from it. He wants to move up the pecking order. He sees percentage in fishing in troubled waters.

All the ex post facto contextualizing and the dramatic tremors stemming from it do not offer the actors much room by way of room for manoeuvre. Thrown into the deep end to make do with largely ineffectual tools, they try their best. The limited scope that the screenplay grants them undermines their efforts.

The focus is principally on Diljit Dosanjh, who shines to the extent possible, but this film would have been a far more rounded affair had the character played by Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub been given a sharper arc. He is as fine an actor as any in the business, but saddled with a role that is devoid of depth, he can only do so much and no more.

The worst served is the ever-effortless, ever-impressive Kumud Mishra. The politician he plays is less a shadowy, unscrupulous power-seeker than a conventional Hindi movie baddie who uses his henchmen to wreak havoc. In a scene that chillingly brings out Tejpal Arora's nonchalance, he plays hopscotch with his daughter while the city burns. More such revelatory moments might have extended the scope of the role and enhanced the impact of character's chicanery.

Jogi is, by all reckoning, a missed opportunity. It fritters away the chance to be an explosive tale of friendship and humanity in a city torn asunder. The film gets all tangled up as it seeks to balance the intrinsic power of the narrative material and the need to present it to an audience with all its complexities weeded out. What's left is a near-empty shell.