Do human beings more resemble civilized man or primal beast? According to the interesting yet strange examination of man’s basic instincts run amok, Jallikattu, the answer is mostly beast. Or, at least, when human beings are compared to the actual beast in the story. This is not your typical bullfight!
There really is no traditional storyline to speak of in Jallikattu; the movie is more of an extended circumstance. In an Indian jungle village, a buffalo belonging to the local butcher, Varkey (Chemban Vinod Jose), gets loose. Since buffalo meat (or meat of any kind, really) is such a precious foodstuff for the population, it’s up to the men of the village to gather their resources and hunt down the wild animal by any means necessary.
The police are notified to little effect, and the women and the elderly are instructed to remain indoors or risk a gorging by the raging bull (I had to!). While the men run around with daggers and torches, the women stay safe at home as if to collectively lament, “Oh our men! What little boys they are.”
Meanwhile, sensing that they need to call in the big guns, the village men resign to call upon a man named Kuttachan (Sabumon Abdusametd) for assistance. Apparently, Kuttachan is the man with the plan when it comes to seizing the bull, but his help comes with a catch. It seems as though Kuttachan has a history with the village and may have been exiled long ago for a crime involving the theft of some sandalwood.
“…it’s up to the men of the village to gather their resources and hunt down the wild animal…”
Considering the number of featured characters in the film, the relationships between many of them are never made very clear; we only are able to deduce a very general connection amongst them. For instance, there is obviously bad blood between local hothead Antony (Antony Varghese) and Kuttachan. It’s possible that Antony had something to do with Kuttachan’s capture and exile from the village, but in what capacity? We are only left to infer. As a result, the movie is more difficult to follow than it should be,
A noisy and energetic film, Jallikattu gets even more so as it goes along. As the bull continues to evade capture, more and more men from the village and its immediate environs become involved in the hunt—the whole thing crescendos to an amazing orgy of violence that has to be seen to be believed.
I think that director Lijo Jose Pellissery is attempting to address universal hypotheses concerning man versus beast and the lengths to which man will go to assert his authority and power over his peers. Some of this thesis reaches the audience, but the conceit might have had more of an impact with either less of a scope or a more focused narrative. For example, the subplot involving the impending marriage of a teenager and her father’s preparation for her wedding could have been excised altogether. Still, the steady build to the horrifying climax drives home the idea despite its sketchiness in the story.
However, special mention must be given to the film’s stunning cinematography, courtesy of DP Girish Gangadharan. Several long, meandering tracking shots smoothly immerse the viewer in the experience of accompanying these men on their chase through the jungle. Additionally, the editing in time with the soundtrack and the richness of the color grading stylishly complements the film’s design.
Jallikattu is a unique and operatically violent movie. What the plot lacks in narrative cohesion, it certainly makes up for in startling image and thought.
"…not your typical bullfight!"