Rotterdam Competition Title ‘Joram’ Addresses Enforced Development Malaise in Survival Thriller Form

Throughout his career, Indian filmmaker Devashish Makhija has been a chronicler of social inequities and “Joram” continues the trajectory.

Makhija’s short films examine subjects as varied as misogyny, corruption, land grab and patriarchy. Amongst his features, “Ajji” (2017) tackles rape and its aftermath, while “Bhonsle” (2018) looks at a host of subjects including loneliness, social justice and the plight of the migrant worker.

With “Joram,” Makhija returns to themes explored in his debut feature “Oonga” (2013). Eminent actor Manoj Bajpayee, who previously starred in Makhija’s 2016 short “Taandav” and played the title role in “Bhonsle,” plays Dasru, a tribal migrant worker in Mumbai whose past catches up with him and he must flee with his infant daughter Joram. Mohd. Zeeshan Ayyub (Netflix film “Jogi,” ZEE5 series “Bloody Brothers”) plays Ratnakar, the weary Mumbai cop in pursuit of Dasru. Also in the mix is sinister tribal lawmaker Phulo Karma, played by Smita Tambe (Netflix series “Sacred Games”).

Acclaimed actors Tannishtha Chatterjee (Busan winner “Roam Rome Mein”) and Rajshri Deshpande (Netflix series “Trial by Fire”) have special appearances in the film.

Structured as a fast-paced survival thriller, “Joram” also explores the malaise of galloping and enforced development that causes land grab, deforestation and displacement of tribals.

Makhija told Variety that the themes seen in “Joram” are “difficult to have conversations around unless the film/story that seeks to raise these questions also offers something engaging to the viewer.”

“The survival thriller that ‘Joram’ set out to be hopefully makes the film an engaging enough watch for the viewers to then carry home the disturbing questions we seek to raise,” Makhija added. “I’ve been exploring the complicated conflicts around development in my stories for years now. My first film on this – ‘Oonga’ – didn’t turn out as I wished it would and I turned it into a young adult novel some years ago.”

When academic and producer Anupama Bose joined Makhija’s Makhijafilm, “Joram” was one of the first projects she set up. Bajpayee had read the script prior to “Bhonsle” and was already on board to play Dasru. Zee Studios heard about the project from Bajpayee and came on board.

“Dev wanted my character to speak through his eyes, his journey and struggles. You can’t fake your eyes, the life of the character needs to reflect through the eyes. To get that you really have to get into the skin of the character. Whenever he saw that the character is reflected he okayed the take,” Bajpayee said.

“The entire experience was magnificent and I feel very comfortable being directed by him, and also Dev is a great writer and a visionary and someone who is very clear about everything that goes into making the film,” Bajpayee added. “The script is quite unique – it’s a survivor’s story, at the same time the relationship between the baby and the father is something for the audience to really see, and witness a great story unfolding. It is a film that is always on the move and it never stops, but at the same time the silent relationship between the characters is just out of this world.”

Makhija’s brief to Ayyub was that that the film’s perspective is from Ratnakar’s point of view. “To an extent, my personal journey has also been very similar to the character. Earlier you would feel that everything is fine while feeling under-privileged at the same time. But then when you actually witness under-privileged people is when you realize how privileged you have been all along just because you were living in a city,” Ayyub said.

“Joram” is one of the 28 films Zee Studios has lined up for 2023. “The journey of the film has started with Rotterdam and we propose to travel with this film to more festivals before deciding on a worldwide release strategy,” Zee Studios chief business officer Shariq Patel said.

Makhijafilm has also backed Parth Saurabh’s San Sebastián winner “Pokhar Ke Dunu Paar,” Ayappa’s short doc “Kunde” and Surya Balakrishnan’s work-in-progress “Amarkatha.” Three more features are in the works.

“In all my years of academics and working with indie filmmakers and the Indian indie industry, it’s been my observation that our films could benefit from more producers who nurture the film development upwards with the ability to eventually going out there on ground and getting their hands dirty. That’s been my effort with ‘Joram.’ I hope I have been that producer for Devashish and I can be that producer for all the directors we choose to work with,” Bose said.

“Joram” world premieres on Jan. 31 at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, where it is in the Big Screen competition. This is Makhija’s third successive film at the festival after “Ajji” and “Bhonsle.”

“IFFR is one of those rare festivals that continues to persevere to bring the world voices that question and provoke. To be selected by them is an honor for a team this driven and courageous that put a collective might behind a film as difficult to make as ours,” Makhija said.

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