Jallikattu is a 2019 Indian Malayalam-language independent action thriller film directed by Lijo Jose Pellissery with a screenplay by S. Hareesh and R. Jayakumar, based on the short story Maoist by Hareesh. The film stars Antony Varghese, Chemban Vinod Jose, Sabumon Abdusamad and Santhy Balachandran. The plot follows a bull that escapes from a slaughterhouse in a hilly remote village and the entire village men gathering to hunt down the animal.
Jallikattu was premiered on 6 September 2019 at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival and received widespread critical acclaim. The film was showcased at the 24th Busan International Film Festival under the section ‘A Window on Asian Cinema’. It was released in the home state Kerala on 4 October 2019. Lijo Jose Pellissery received the Best Director trophy at the 50th International Film Festival of India. It was selected as the Indian entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 93rd Academy Awards, but it was not nominated. It was third Malayalam film after Guru and Adaminte Makan Abu to be chosen as India’s official entry to the Oscars. It was included in The Hindu’s top 25 Malayalam films of the decade and is widely regarded as one of the defining movies of the New Wave Movement.
Kalan Varkey is the only butcher in a small, rural village in Kerala. He and his assistant, Antony, meet before dawn each day to slaughter a buffalo and prepare its meat for sale in the market. However, one morning a buffalo slips its bindings before Varkey can kill it, escaping into the hilly jungle. Soon after, a large haystack is set ablaze, and the entire village wakes up to put out the fire. The men of the village, hearing of the buffalo’s escape and believing that it was responsible to begin an urgent hunt for the animal.
As the day progresses, the villagers repeatedly try but fail to corner the buffalo and kill it. Crops at the rubber plantation are trampled, a drinks vendor’s cart is smashed, and the village’s bank and convenience store are both destroyed. The villagers begin to turn on Varkey, blaming him for the vandalism caused by the bull. Meanwhile, the police turn up but refuse to help, as killing cattle is illegal – instead, they focus on merely warning people to stay inside until the buffalo is caught. The frustrated villagers instead call Kuttachan, a renowned local poacher with his own hunting rifle, for help. Antony is unhappy to see Kuttachan back in the village; in a flashback it is revealed that, before Antony married his wife Sophie, the two men had been rivals over her. Antony had won by informing the police that Kuttachan was stealing sandalwood from the local church, leading to his arrest. As Kuttachan prepares for the hunt by chopping up a metal bucket handle into pieces of buckshot, they start a mass argument among the villagers over which man deserves to land the killing blow on the buffalo.
Elsewhere in the village, the disruption – both from the buffalo’s rampage and the hunt – spreads further, causing other personal issues to come to the surface. Law and order begins to break down, with some of the men setting off fireworks and committing random acts of vandalism. Kuriachan, a wealthy man who had been planning an elaborate feast of different buffalo dishes for his daughter’s wedding party, ventures out to try and find some chicken instead; a group of workers seize him, stripping him to his underwear, and bring him to the hunt as a trophy. His daughter, meanwhile, tries to avoid the arranged marriage by running away – but a neighbour catches and punishes her. Several of the men, angry and frustrated, beat their wives or drink heavily, while some women find men openly leering at them through windows as they sleep.