Friday, July 22, 2011

Jajantaram Mamantaram (Land of the Little People) (2003)
INDIA --- fantasy

Dir: Soumitra Ranade

Diving into another Bollywood film, you never quite know what to expect, but odds are you will be entertained. This one also happens to be another Idian copycat film, but I decided to review this one because it has earmarks in Indian film and literature. I will explain that later. On the outside looking in, the film clearly steals its story from Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels", and like many adaptations focusing only on the first voyage to Lillput. However, this one blends in some more characters and action than what  Swift ever put in his first chapter.

In lieu of Gulliver, we have a shipwrecked Mumbai man named Aditya, who washes ashore the diminutive island of Shundi. When a young soldier named Jee Rang discovers the washed up giant, he returns to his village with the news, but they actually believe it's another giant named Jhamunda (whom we will meet later). They seek counsel from an oracle who conjures a mermaid, leading to the much-expected musical sequence. The king and his vizier/ sorcerer, Chattan Singh, arrive at the beach where they have Aditya tired up and bound. When Aditya awakes, Chattan orders the army to attack. Realizing their tiny weapons are useless, they soon retreat in fear, but the king overhears Aditya's request for water and returns to give him water, against the advice of vizier Singh. Soon Aditya and Jee Rang form a friendship as he reveals his feelings for the princess to the giant.

Meanwhile, vizier Singh is not happy with the giant Aditya's presence on the island, and he plots to destroy him with his own giant, a supernaturally conjured being called Jhamunda. He goes to an older sage with advice on the idea of conjuring Jhamunda, a spirit Singh apparently has been using during harvest season for human sacrifice. Singh kills the sage when he advises against it, and conjures the malevolent giant anyway. When Jhamunda goes to terrorize Shundi, Jee Rang convinces Aditya to fight Jhamunda, and he defeats him easy enough. Singh, however, orders Jhamunda to return to Shundi and face Aditya again, and Jhamunda is defeated again.

Frustrated, Singh then plots to kill Jee Rang, but when he espies him alone with the princess, he tells the king that Jee Rang has been plotting to take the kingdom from him. The king banishes him, and when Aditya tries to intercede for him, his words fall on deaf ears and is no longer welcome in Shundi. After a series of fights, Jhamunda finally manages to defeat Aditya with a supernatural sword. Singh uses the opportunity to usurp the throne for himself and force the princess to be his bride. Jee Rang gathers the villagers, children and all, to nurse Aditya back to health and forge for him a supernatural weapon of his own to combat Jhamunda. Ultimately, Jhamunda is conquered, Shundi is saved, Singh is defeated, and Aditya goes off to sea and they all live happily ever after.

"Jajantaram Mamantaram" is a somewhat original take on the old Swift tale, and yet it still manages to have its roots in Indian history. Interestingly, Shundi is the creation of an author named Upendrakishore Ray, who happens to be the grandfather of Indian auteur filmmaker Satyajit Ray. Ray actually filmed a version of the story himself called "Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne", one of his more celebrated films outside of the acclaimed Apu trilogy. Another interesting note is the name Aditya  literally means "Sun", but sounds similar to the name of the Hindi giant gods Daitya. "Jajantaram Mamantaram" doesn't have much going for it, but the cinematography is top notch, and really is one of the highlights of the film, even almost apologizing for the made-for-tv special effects. One thing I didn't get is there seems to be alot of mystical stuff afoot on the island, including a vizier Chattan Singh, an old sage he consults, and a mermaid and the oracle who conjures her up. Somehow, none of these people can stop the evil giant Jhumunda. Hmmm. Just take it as a harmless children's film, and all the logic will make sense.