Mexico (Jibrail Rajhula) finds himself at the end of a tunnel. And yes, there really is light at the end of this tunnel.

He ends up there because four masked men are chasing him. However, there is a locked gate between him and the light.

This particular scene in Jagat takes that cliched motivational saying and turns it around to remind viewers that the light at the end of the tunnel is sometimes just out of reach. And that’s when we also realise that with Jagat we are not guaranteed a fairy-tale ending.

Directed by Shanjhey Kumar Perumal, Jagat is a Malaysian-made Tamil-language film about Appoi (Harvind Raj), a 12-year-old boy growing up in a small town. He has a strained relationship with his hard-working labourer father Maniam (Kuhan Mahadevan), who wants nothing more than to see Appoi excel in school.

His father firmly believes that education is the only way to prevent Appoi from going on a downward spiral like his own two brothers – reclusive uncle Bala (Senthil Kumaran Muniandy), who lives in a hut. and the jobless Mexico.

But the school has no place for a creative and inquisitive child like Appoi. Following the rigid education system, the school keeps Appoi where it thinks he should be. Frustrated, Appoi seeks acceptance and knowledge elsewhere.

His journey starts with watching Rajinikanth’s movies on television. He also takes advice from his wayward uncles and the town’s affable drug dealer Chicago (Tinesh Sarathi Krishnan). Soon, this impressionable boy begins to show signs that he may not live up to his father’s expectations.

Shanjhey’s debut feature film is beautifully shot, allowing viewers to appreciate the charms and untouched wonders of a small town through lingering shots of its jetty and scenes of of the town at night.

Mexico is not amused by his friends knock knock joke.

Mexico is not amused by his friends knock knock joke.

Slowly, he lets viewers find out for themselves that realistically woven underneath these layers of wonder is a stark tale of desperation. We come to understand why some men behave the way they do. Mexico is being chased because he refused to get involved with the town’s drug syndicate. However, he’s no saint as he shakes down people for a living.

In an earlier, poignant scene, he watches in anguish as his brother is forced to use a length of raffia for a belt. That’s when Mexico decides to accept a job from morally-ambiguous car dealer Da Gou (Marup Mustapah) in order to help his brother financially.

With an element like gangsterism in the mix, viewers may expect an action film filled with gunshots and car chases. But Jagat is not that kind of film. Most of the violence takes place off-screen. Viewers will see blood washed off machetes, or hear the sound of punches. Perhaps the most distressing scene would be when Maniam disciplines Appoi. Some viewers might deem it too harsh for a child.

The film also unfolds at a languid pace, but every scene is a meticulous set-up for what is about to happen.

According to Shanjhey, his debut film is partially based on his life. However, it’s not his intent to make Jagat a sugar-coated lesson about rising above adversity. He also refuses to say who is really “jagat” (Tamil slang for jahat, Malay for bad). Instead, he wants viewers to make their own conclusions, informed by their respective experiences and observations. Jagat is worth sitting through just for that.

There are some technical flaws, but they don’t really matter. Not when Jagat has powerful performances, many memorable scenes, and of course, a well-executed and engaging story about a boy – it’s a Malaysian film that we deserve.

It’s not all dark and depressing as there are some humorous moments. Look out for the scene where Appoi gets back at his Maths teacher for humiliating him at school.

There is a also message for everyone. A happy ending is not about reaching that light at the end of the tunnel. It’s about turning back to face your demons.


Jagat

Cast: Harvind Raj, Kuhan Mahadevan, Jibrail Rajhula, Senthil Kumaran Muniandy, Marup Mustapah and Tinesh Sarathi Krishnan.

Director: Shanjhey Kumar Perumal