‘Jallikattu 5-23 January 2017’ is a recollection of the protests through a mix of real-world footage and recreations.

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The pro-jallikattu protests of January 2017 are imprinted in the collective memory of Tamil Nadu, with lakhs of citizens across the state, and even overseas, taking to the streets to fight for the traditional bull-taming sport. The sea of people at Chennai’s Marina Beach became a sight to behold, with banners proclaiming Tamil pride, slogans raised against political interference, and scores of people cutting across social lines to help each other. The protests became representative of the influence the common man could have when united.

These images of epic proportions, grounded in people, are what inspired filmmaker Santhosh’s feature film, Jallikattu 5-23 January 2017. The film is a recollection of the protests through a mix of real-world footage and recreations, produced by Nirupama, his wife. 

Their interest in the jallikattu issue was sparked shortly before the primary movement gathered steam. Nirupama explains, “Prior to the protests in January, we were on a road trip through Tamil Nadu. where we saw small groups of people vocalizing their support for jallikattu, which was exciting for us to record. You felt the fury within the people.”

This curiosity in the issue compelled them to visit the protests at the Marina Beach on the evening of the first day, but, she observes “By day 2 we realized the momentum was very strong.” It was at this point that she and Santhosh realized there could be a mobilization of people unlike seen previously, and felt the need to capture it.

“We called in our network of friends, and brought in as many cameras as possible to keep filming,” says Santhosh. There were several challenges in obtaining the proper equipment and managing to film the scenes. Initially, the goal was to simply record as much of the protests as possible. “Like many Tamil films, there was no script,” Nirupama quips. But this may have turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Santhosh. He explains, “I didn’t really follow any grammar while capturing the footage. The shots were hard to define because of the chaos of the protests. But that’s become its own style, unlike how cinematic movies like Baahubali usually are.” He speaks of a special moment - “On one evening, we have a drone shot of the entire beach, from the MGR memorial, that was unbelievable to watch.”

In the midst of the protests, they noticed several stories emerging, including a leaderless movement that was nevertheless strongly networked. From a man who made the banners and flags for the protest, to the roots of the social media messages that were making the rounds, and even an old woman who was serving coffee to those gathered at Marina, there were several characters that Santhosh honed in on. After January 23, when the crowd at Marina Beach was forcefully dispersed by the police, Santhosh and Nirupama started meeting people in an attempt to understand why the sentiments behind the movement were so strong.

Explaining the rationale of making a feature film over a documentary, Santhosh narrates, “We captured a lot of original footage, but it wasn’t sufficient to tell a story. So from the stories we collected, we picked five specific perspectives of the protestors there. We recreated their backstories, and their reasons for being at the protests.”

Starting from the outpouring at Alanganallur, up to the protests at Marina Beach, the aim became to document the protests in a narrative manner. This was inspired by a movie Santhosh had watched just before these events, called Clash, which was set in Egypt during the Arab Spring, and was entirely made in the back of a police van.

The poster for Jallikattu 5-23 January 2017 was unveiled in New York on 4 June, with Nirupama saying, “It was a conscious decision, due to the similarities of the jallikattu movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement.” Given the people-oriented message of the film, Santhosh hopes that it will resonate with audiences everywhere on release.

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