Why Lijo Jose Pellissery’s ‘Jallikattu’ Will Be A Major Contender At The 2021 Oscars

With the man vs animal conflict as its central theme, 'Jallikattu' serves as a powerful reminder of man’s insatiable lust for power and supremacy. It has been picked as India’s official entry for the 2021 Oscars

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Murtaza Ali Khan
Murtaza Ali Khan
Executive Director of Transcontinental Times, Murtaza Ali Khan is an award-winning Film & TV critic and journalist. He can be reached at murtaza.jmi@gmail.com.

INDIA: Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Jallikattu is India’s official entry for the 2021 Oscars for the Best International Feature Film category. Jallikattu was competing with 26 other films which included Chaitanya Tamhane’s critically acclaimed The Disciple, Meghna Gulzar’s Chhapaak, Shoojit Sircar’s Gulabo Sitabo, Devashish Makhija’s Bhonsle, Hansal Mehta’s Chhalaang, Prateek Vats’ Eeb Allay Ooo!, Sudhir Mishra’s Serious Men, Shonali Bose’s The Sky is Pink, and Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Shikara, among others.

A still from Jallikattu
A still from ‘Jallikattu’ / Photo Credit: DIFF

Jallikattu, which had its world premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, is set in a remote village where a buffalo escapes slaughter and triggers an orgy of violence involving the beast and the villagers. With the man vs animal conflict as its central theme, Jallikattu serves as a powerful reminder of man’s insatiable lust for power and supremacy over everyone else. The film also explores themes of envy, jealousy, machismo, and chaos and mob behaviour. While the film is based on a short story written by S. Hareesh, William Golding’s classic novel ‘Lord of Flies’ too seems to have a great influence on Jallikattu. Like most films of Pellissery, Jallikattu also employs overlapping dialogue for scenes set in crowded spaces that bears an uncanny similarity to the style of the great Robert Altman. Coupled with razor-sharp kinetic editing and breathtakingly fluid camera movements, the use of overlapping dialogue gives a whole new dimension to Pellissery’s films. I had an engaging conversation with the Malayalam filmmaker about Jallikattu and his unique filmmaking style at the 2019 Dharamshala International Film Festival.  

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Pellissery is undoubtedly one of the most original and exciting filmmakers working right now.  In the recent years, he has succeeded in raising his game by leaps and bounds to produce some of the best films seen in Indian cinema over the last decade. The dream run started with Angamaly Diaries, his 2017 Malayalam-language crime drama film, which proved to be a major critical and commercial success. The story follows Vincent Pepe who wants to be a powerful leader of a righteous gang that would rule the town of Angamaly. The film features a breathtaking 11-minute-long single take in the climax that features around 1,000 artists.

Ee.Ma.Yau, his 2018 Malayalam language satire, revolves around the death and funeral of an older man from the Roman Catholic community in a coastal village. The film won the Best Director and Best Actor awards at the 49th International Film Festival of India. Pellissery received the IFFI Silver Peacock Award for Best Director at the 50th International Film Festival of India. Lijo’s upcoming film Churuli, a sci-fi thriller set in a tiny, nondescript village nested in a lush, impenetrable forest. It was all set to premiere at film festivals but the ongoing pandemic thwarted his plans with Lijo maintaining that “a film like Churuli, just like Christopher Nolan’s ‘Tenet’, can only be complete as an experience in the cinemas.”

A still from Lijo Jose Pellissery's upcoming film 'Churuli'
A still from Lijo Jose Pellissery’s upcoming film ‘Churuli’ / Photo Credit: YouTube Screengrab
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Rahul Rawail, Chairman, Jury Board – Film Federation Of India, explained the reason behind choosing Jallikattu over 26 other films: “It is a film which really brings out the raw side of human beings, that we are worse than animals. Human instincts are worse than animals. The film has been depicted wonderfully. It’s a production that all of us should be proud of. The film has been shot very well. The emotions, which come out, moved all of us. Lijo is an extremely competent director. So, that’s why we zeroed in on Jallikattu.”

A still from Jallikattu
A still from ‘Jallikattu’ / Photo Credit: DIFF

So far only three Indian films viz. Mother India (1957), Salaam Bombay! (1988) and Lagaan (2001) have been nominated for the award. Often, in the past, the tendency to send a mainstream Bollywood film for the Oscars has let us down. But in the recent times we have seen films like Court and Village Rockstars getting the nod ahead of the commercial Hindi films. But last year again we had a mainstream film like Gully Boy as India’s official pick for the Oscars and that’s precisely why the choice of Jallikattu comes across as a very refreshing one. Pellissery’s cinema has all the right ingredients that put him at par with filmmakers like Bong Joon-ho and Hirokazu Koreeda. Given the dream run that Asian films have been witnessing at the Oscars over the last couple of years, it wouldn’t really come as a surprise if Jallikattu not just makes the shortlist but also ends up winning the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film. Of course that would require a strong campaign leading to the 93rd Academy Awards in April 2021. But, for now, we can definitely afford to take a sigh of relief that at last India will have a real contender at the Oscars.

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