Synopsis – Bhavesh Joshi Superhero is an action film about a young man who wants to continue doing the right and challenge the wrong. And on this journey, he discovers that he’s destined to do bigger things, which will transform him from a common man into a Superhero.
My Take – As a huge fan of the superhero genre, I have to admit, Bollywood’s previous outings haven’t been great. Sure, the Hrithik Roshan led Krrish films have found respectable financial as well as critical success, but if you are truly into the genre, you know it’s never about the VFX or the overlong stunt sequences, it is all about the engaging factor and the fact whether the fight is worth in need of a superhero. A reason why the reason for the fight in 2016’s A Flying Jatt, just seems too ridiculous. May be that’s the reason when director Vikramaditya Motwane announced this superhero flick years back, it hooked everyone, mainly as a director Motwane, has been responsible for some of this decade’s most critically lauded Hindi language films, like Udaan, Lootera and Trapped, as a result, despite the change in lead from Imran Khan to Siddharth Malhotra, to Anil Kapoor‘s son Harshvardhan Kapoor, who debuted with the financial disaster, Mirzya, a year and a half back, the film promised to be a piece apart from his previous work. And the results are unsurprisingly impressive.
The film cuts through the clutter of Bollywood superhero films like Ra One and deals with vigilante justice in a raw form. It’s relatable, and you can believe it, because it’s what’s happening all around us, as director Motwane‘s film is a dark and subtle reflection of the current troubled and unstable political environment. It stresses on the welfare of a community and the local people, but does so without sounding like a sermon. Sure, the film has its set of fouls in play plus a run time of 154 minutes does affect its final impact, but considering everything, it is probably the first right step in the direction of a successful Indian superhero film, as it manages to keep you hooked and not make a caricature of the characters in the story.
Narrated by Rajat (Ashish Verma), the story follows the escapades of his two best friends Bhavesh Joshi (Priyanshu Painyuli) and Sikander Khanna aka Siku (Harshvardhan Kapoor), two college students who discover purpose in their lives following the India against Corruption movement of 2011. Charged up by a ground swell of public protests against corruption, they decide to stop complaining and begin acting. But their only weapon of action here is a video camera, which they use effectively by setting up an underground online channel called Insaaf TV on which, with a paper bag covering their heads, they go about exposing minor – but endemic – violations in Mumbai city.
However, upon realizing that nothing will change the corrupt system, Siku moves on in life, by finding himself a job in an MNC and supportive girlfriend in Sneha (Shreiyah Sabarwal), a law student. But Bhavesh doesn’t give up on his cause, and during one of his escapades stumbles upon a conspiracy around public water pipelines and a powerful state minister called Rana (Nishikant Kamat), an operation which leads to his unfortunate fate. As a result of which Siku, fueled by guilt and remorse, sets out to gain redemption, by fulfilling Bhavesh’s incomplete mission.
By setting the film against the backdrop of the 2011 anti-corruption movement director Motwani’s film pulsates and swirls trying to channel the anger that most Indian’s felt about the sordid state of affairs in the country. It’s an interesting premise, which takes some time to settle itself down but has enough zing to keep us hooked, even though there is a definite shift post interval where the narrative theme seems to be subsumed by the overarching theme of revenge. While the film doesn’t necessarily break a lot of new ground on the world cinema front, it’s certainly an exciting development for Hindi cinema with director Motwane turning his considerable skills to my beloved genre cinema for the first time. The lead here is not a mythical hero made up nor has he arrived from another planet, instead he is just an average guy like you or me, think more brooding than Kick Ass and less skilled than Arrow, who was born out of that 2011 churning which inspired so many but ended up disappearing into thin air.
Like all superhero and vigilante films, director Motwane’s superhero, one that he has co-imagined and written with Anurag Kashyap and Abhay Koranne, also leans on certain tropes: A huge motivating factor (usually loss of a loved one), a set of skills and resources, the determination to do good, and a distinctive costume. But in this all-black ensemble with LED lights twinkling in his helmet, he sure manages to stand out. That includes getting his butt kicked and make rookie mistakes, mainly as he operates more from passion and guilt than with a plan, characteristics that also connect you to this reluctant hero. Considering director Motwane‘s earlier works, his greatest strength his films has been his understanding of complex human emotions and their subtle portrayals, without bordering on excess. Here too, you see the evolution of a common person into a fighter and a rebel is sincere as you support the hero and his bitter struggle for justice.
Writers Motwane, Anurag Kashyap and Abhay Koranne have poured in their frustrations with a crumbling civic set-up and a benign law and order system in this script. And this is a vigilante story unlike anything India has seen so far, and a message film in which the message is integrated into the film in a way that isn’t’ preachy, but also manages to get the job done. With corruption a topic of daily conversation on the streets of every big city and small town in India, it’s no wonder that stories about it take up tons of space on the nation’s cinema screens, but none have managed to do so with quite the deft hand and excellent storytelling of director Motwane‘s latest. The great thing about the film is that it attempts to inspire the common man to fight crime, corruption and injustice. It shows how things can be changed with truthfulness, courage and conviction. Sure, the screenplay is unhurried in establishing the prologue to the hero’s origin and the narrative is a bit unrealistic and far-fetched, but that’s what superhero films are supposed to be. There are fate, fantasy and deux-de-machina that comes to the rescue of the hero during his trying and turbulent moments, these are what pump the adrenaline.
One of the cinematic liberties taken by the director is the inclusion of the Greek mythology used as a metaphor, this bit seemed forced and pseudo in the telling. As the film progresses, it comes alive visually, with Motwane and cinematographer Siddharth Diwan pulling velvety images out of the black of night. Being cool is certainly one of the things director Motwane is aiming for in this film, and the influence of the American comic book universe is unmistakable here. Siddharth Diwan’s camera snakes through Mumbai’s streets and alleys at night, giving the city a Gotham-like feel, but even if the treatment is Hollywood, our hero’s motivations lie closer home. Cinematographer Diwan‘s visuals offer unique angles and frames especially during the action sequences. The high points in the film are action scenes at the water tanker yard and a bike chase through skywalks, parking lots and local trains, which are accented by Amit Trivedi’s pulsating background music. And overall, the film boasts of excellent production values rendered by the production and design team along with the editing and sound team.
The film has its numerous faults though, with the main flaw being its excessive run time. For the most part, the film is quick-paced and enthralling, yet towards the end it is tediously stretched out. Also some of the scenes in the film feel unnecessary and forced. When Sikander confronts a police officer for delaying his passport verification, the premise doesn’t seem convincing. The second half drags and brings down the otherwise decent momentum of the film. It’s just trying to say too much and doing so at such a painful pace that much of a good intention is effected in its execution. There are also some conveniences in the script that are irksome. For instance, don’t these boys have families? How has he walked away from a life but not been reported as a missing person? His boss should have definitely checked with some contact in Atlanta, that whether he reached US or not, and that the Police could have also checked the same with his Boss. It is difficult to believe that Sikander can walk around the city without having the fear of being discovered.
I did expect the Chyawanprash song picturing Arjun Kapoor and the Dandekar sisters, Shibani and Anusha, to feature in the film, and was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t. In the lead role, Harshvardhan Kapoor proves his mettle as an actor in his second Bollywood outing. Here, he seems at ease and more convincing in his role as the crime eroding superhero in comparison to his debut. Initially, he seems to be struggling with the pace of the film, and the confusion is shown in his expressions, but then he picks himself up again. Kapoor has a certain raw appeal that is unpolished and natural which works for his character. However, the real find of the film is Priyanshu Painyuli, who also starred in another underrated Phantom production, High Jack, is outstandingly good here. Painyuli is tonally correct, emotionally consistent, and believable as the realist-patriot. In supporting roles, Ashish Verma and Shreiyah Sabarwal put in sincere performances, while Nishikant Kamat is wasted in a weak role. On the whole, ‘Bhavesh Joshi Superhero‘ is a dark, cool and edgy vigilante-superhero drama, which despite its flaws, earns points for director Motwane‘s fresh take on the wearied superhero genre.
Directed – Vikramaditya Motwane
Rated – PG15
Run Time – 154 minutes