Bhaskar is not an easy character to play, but Varun Dhawan gives a glorious performance. The mass hero has already proved his acting prowess in films like Badlapur and October and here he sinks his teeth into the character
Director: Amar Kaushik
Writer: Niren Bhatt
Cast: Varun Dhawan, Kriti Sanon, Abhishek Banerjee, Paalin Kabak, and Deepak Dobriyal
Bhaskar (Varun Dhawan) is an avaricious young contractor, who along with his cousin Janardhan (Abhishek Banerjee) travels to Arunachal Pradesh’s Ziro on an assignment to build a road, chopping down the lush green forests and screwing up the environment and creating a further fragile ecosystem. The duo team up with Joe (Paalin Kabak). Bhaskar has zero empathy towards local humans or animals and is willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. One night, while in the forest, his bum gets bitten by a wolf and he instantly acquires superhuman qualities. The wolf bite injects in him the abilities and characteristics of the wolf and like spiderman he becomes wolfman, but since we are in India, a country of ichchadhari, shapeshifting and contact-lens wearing naagins, he becomes an ichchadhari wolfman. On full-moon nights he transforms into a Bhediya in a true blue Wolverine style (although the storyline might remind one of the Rahul Roy-starrer 1992 movie Junoon…a fact that is actually even acknowledged in the film in a rather hilarious way). The movie, although has the premise of a horror movie, is intentionally funny. So, we have Bhaskar going through a hilarious ordeal while munching down fellow humans. He is taken to a bumbling but cute vet (Kriti Sanon), the film’s only female character, for treatment. It is his back story that drives the movie from there on with her backstory providing the final twist.
Bhaskar is not an easy character to play, but Varun Dhawan gives a glorious performance. The mass hero has already proved his acting prowess in films like Badlapur and October and here he sinks his teeth into the character. His comic timing has always been his strength and he aces the comedy scenes. But he also brings in the physicality crucial to pull off this role. He is cute, funny, vulnerable, macho, and in top form in this werewolf act. He becomes Bhaskar.
Abhishek Banerjee matches up with Varun’s energy and comic timing. His dialogues are replete with casual racism, and he pulls them off with a certain naivety that enhances the overall impact of the scenes. His character also doubles up as the bridge between the worlds of Bhediya and Stree. Arunachali actor, Paalin Kabak as Jomin is the surprise of the package. The NSD alumnus provides the perfect foil to Dhawan’s Bhaskar. Deepak Dobriyal is always on top form and he is on point as Panda even with that not-so-flattering wig. The only female character in the movie is played by Kriti Sanon. As Dr. Anika Mittal she gives an impactful performance. However, the writer had not given her much to chew on and her love story angle seems to be written as an afterthought solely serving commercial reasons (also, I am not a fan of the short crop, it reminded me of Priyanka Chopra in Barfi!).
At the core of this outlandish goings-on is the story of deforestation and the impact of urbanization on the ecosystem. Amar Kaushik, goes back to Ziro and the Apatani tribe, the setting of his critically acclaimed 2017 short Aaba, his directorial debut that won the Special Prize of the Generation Kplus International Jury at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival. Kaushik, who has grown up in Arunachal Pradesh and had close encounters with the forest with his dad being a forest ranger, understands the issues at hand and deals with them with genuine empathy and an insider’s perspective. He uses local folklore, traditionally used to drive the message of the importance of respecting the forest, to tell his story. He highlights the important and difficult questions, one being in order to protect the forests should we undermine the infrastructural development of the villages scattered amid the forests? But, should the road to development stab through the heart of the forest land? The film also highlights the discrimination and stereotyping faced by the people of the northeast in a subtle but poignant, and more importantly, authentic way. Kaushik is almost like the character of Panda in the film—an outsider, who has lived in that land for too long to be considered an ‘outsider’ and understands the local issues better than even some of the people hailing from the region.
The dialogues by the Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah writer Niren Bhatt, with whom Kaushik had previously collaborated in his 2019 satirical black comedy Bala, brings in his A-game and the result is some poignant but hilarious repartee popping with pop-culture references. The wit of the writer shines all through the movie, even when the story gets dreary and repetitive. But it also often trembles on the brink of silly and at times even trips over. It is the story that is the weakest link. Although the film is loaded with subtexts, it is the text that becomes wafer-thin. The plot is too weak to hold so much—the witty dialogues, the stunning VFX, the kickass performances, the issues it wants to convey. To load so much on a two-wheeler, you at least need a Humara Bajaj, instead, Kaushik hops on an old rickety bicycle that loses its paddles and gets a flat tyre halfway into the ride. It is then about Kaushik trying his best to drag it to the finishing line. And at 156 minutes it is too long a drag.
Even though it is a story of fantasy and the fantastical, one still is perplexed by how easily Bhaskar manages to convince the youngsters of the tribe, and all of them, to hand over their lands for the construction of the roads. In a rush to tell his story, Kaushik goes for easy resolutions (that include a Shamshera-like random appearance of winged creatures in the climax to save the hero) taking your willing suspension of disbelief for granted. There is hardly any conflict left in the film for the audience to really invest their emotions. What could have been one of the best films of 2022, becomes a movie that stuns you with its visual effects, makes you laugh out loud with its witty dialogues, and randomly plonks you into a romantic sequence and an emotional scene about the northeast experience, but never really gets you invested in the goings on.
While ensuring that the 3-D creates an immersive experience, Kaushik somewhere loses focus on creating a cohesive and compelling story. One wonders what the movie could have been if it had a screenplay by someone like Raj-DK.
Jishnu Bhattacharjee’s cinematography is splendid, especially the way he shoots the dark and eerie beauty of the forest and captures its infiniteness. There are an ample number of aerial shots (the current favorite among cinematographers) to capture the mist-laden green-grey landscape and adequate close-ups to capture the popping of the veins and muscle bulges as Bhaskar becomes Bhediya.
But the star of the show, apart from Varun’s wolverine act and his ultra-stretch printed boxers, is definitely the VFX. Although some scenes look too superficial (especially the randomly blooming neon flowers on the cliff), this is a welcome change after the shoddy CGI of the Adipurush trailer. Even if the treatment reminds one of movies like American Werewolf In London, The Twilight: New Moon, The Wolfman and Wolverine, and the last scene, the breathtaking view of the sprawling forest from a cliff, almost echoing The Lion King, it is executed well. Done by Moving Picture Company (MPC), a studio associated with movies like Jungle Book, The Lion King, and Top Gun: Maverick, it is definitely the best Bollywood has delivered ever. The 3D is gorgeous.
The songs are good but the romantic number, although melodious, seems to be forced. Amitabh Bhattacharya’s lyrics are quirky and Baaki Sab Theek reminds one of the Jagga Jasoos number. But here the music is not by Pritam but by Sachin-Jigar and that adds to the freshness.
Amar Kaushik version of ‘Junoon for the Gen Z’ weaves in folktales and fantasy to tell a poignant story that brings to the fore serious environmental concerns. Varun Dhawan gives a powerful performance in and as Bhediya (the Indian Wolverine who owns an enviable collection of cool and very stretchable chaddis). The dialogues sparkle with wit, raise important questions, and are sprinkled with adequate pop culture references. The songs are fun (except the randomly inserted romantic one). Indian VFX comes of age and ensures an immersive experience. But with a wafer-thin plot filled with easy resolutions, it spreads itself too thin making this 156-minute-long film a tedious watch. Amar Kaushik attempts to cook a biryani and puts in all the right and optimum-quality ingredients but gets so swayed by the smell of red meat that he forgets to put an adequate amount of rice in it to hold the ingredients. The most interesting part of the movie is however the post-credit scene. So, resist the temptation of leaving midway.