Bhavesh Joshi SuperHero : Movie Review
Rating : 4 stars out of 5 (Excellent)
Director : Vikramaditya Motwane
We bid a difficult goodbye to Producer : Phantom Films
Cast : Harshvardhan Kapoor, Priyanshu Painyuli, Ashish Verma, Nishikanth Kamath, Shreiya Shreiya Sabharwal
Hindi (English subtitles available, 2018)
Bhavesh Joshi - remember him ? The boy next door, who cracked inane jokes, who got duck out in cricket just as often as he winged a mangy four, neither a geek nor a jerk nor an ass but somewhere inbetween , a middle-of-the-roader you sometimes hung out with because there was no one better at that moment. This is his film.
You gotta hand it to Motwane and Team. Think of the impact of "James Bond" or "Sexy Singh" - people sit up and take notice. Say "Bhavesh Joshi" and there's a suppressed belch somewhere. It's a decent name but a Superhero ??! Now that's a legend that only a heroic film-maker can create.
VIKRAMADITYA MOTWANE SUPERHERO. Almost. Probably the worst filmic tragedy from Mumbai in 2018 was that this special film only garnered Rs.1.5 crores at the box office from its Rs. 20 crore budget. The real villain as it turns out, is not Corporator Rana and the rotten police - it is the Indian mainstream audience. India's hyper-critical publication-based movie reviewers have also come down hard on the film , with only a few noteworthy exceptions like Baradwaj Rangan and Rohit Vats who recognised the film's merits. Director and co-writer Motwane continues to be in emotionally hard-hitting form ; alas, for all its dharmic trappings, this is essentially an action picture and the lack of the knife's edge in the action sorely shows.
What's the relevance of Superman or Batman to India ? If these Superheroes slaughter all of the country's corrupt politicians , the brave ol' public will burp out another exactly similar crop. Kill all the 1.35 billion people and replace them with a new breed to engineer a whole new country ? Too much work. More noble would be grassroots reform. That's where Bhavesh Joshi Superhero leaps in - a mask-wearing crusader who screams at garbage being dumped and at people urinating publicly. He shooes them off. But he's also geared towards more high-voltage stuff, taking on the corrupt politician-police nexus. That's the kind of stunt that can get you killed. But a vital thing in Sikandar Khanna nee BJ already got killed after what happens to his pal. A SuperHero rising from the dead - now that's something to truly dread.
A band of three youngsters in Mumbai form a fight-for-justice group and show their work on social media including Youtube and Facebook. Bhavesh Joshi (Priyanshu Painyuli in a spontaneous and life-like portrayal) is the most persistent and fearless of them. Sikandar Khanna (Harshvardhan Kapoor) is also a front-liner but he eventually tires and recedes while a bespectacled, supposedly benign Rajat (Ashish Verma) remains in the background. Trouble erupts when Bhavesh is petitioned by a pained member of the public about a water problem. Turns out one of the city's municipal honchos - a corporator named Rana ( Nishikanth Kamath) - is stealing water from the city's pipes and selling it back to the public via his private trucks. Worse, he's involved a police inspector. The focus steadily shifts to involve just one crusader from the three - Sikander who's left behind to actively fight the villains. Can he become the SuperHero who salvages Maximum City ?
In a drama film, a powerful director can attempt to heroically surmount all other lackluster filmic departments and pull off a reasonably noteworthy film. This is much more difficult in an action film. You need a good editor to squeeze the accelerator evenly from start to finish, and cut the action right before it gets flaccid. But a good editor can only do so much when the director has under-performed. In 'BJS' , the problem is dual - the editor dozes far too often and the overall directorial narration lacks pumping momentum. A scene where a youngster is killed by goons in the rain, is shocking in how plodding the scene is.
Action direction is another specialist department the crucial nature of which is under-appreciated. Motwane deployed the right talent for what little action there was in his "Lootera" (2003) but here his chosen action department is pathetic. Even after Bhavesh Joshi 2.0 gets more experience in martial art fighting, his muscles seem semi-paralyzed - that's how pathetically slow his movements are shown to be. You can imagine Tamil action-directors laughing at this slow crap. A fight atop a bridge shot in silhouette with the hero brandishing a stick, is also useless in how palsied the fight movements are. A zooming bike is shot with passable velocity but it could have been thrice as good with more revving up and snazzier cutting.
Cinematographer Siddharth Diwan's shot-taking is uninspired - being bereft of atmospheric canvas and memorable angles. The scene right after the one in an international airport, where a camera glides in from far above to go into a godown area between trucks, is a very shaky attempt at an expansive swooping shot - a careful lenser would not have tolerated this wobbliness. Composer Amit Trivedi's background score sports shifting shades - serviceable in places, and downright lame in many crucial junctures.
With so many fail-grade aspects , why on earth did I give it four of five stars ? It's because Motwane is in typically wonderful form when action sequences are not involved. The nation-building drive this film exudes is enormous. When the first Bhavesh Joshi points a finger at the leaving Sikandar and tells him that he is staying behind in India because he really loves his country and wants to fight for it, I can bet my bottom rupee or dollar that any number of Indians leaving or staying abroad would feel ashamed at themselves after watching this scene ( but would be too cynical to admit it). Again and again , the characters remain in doubt whether they can make any difference and it is only the bravest of them all who continues to take the plunge, with the wave in his wake pulling aboard the others to soldier on. Pic pulls no punches nor brooks any nonsense about the merciless cost involved in fighting for justice in India ( cf. the murder of activist Gauri Lankesh in Bangalore). This is the naked beating patriotic heart of the film, and it pulsates to the very end with or without good editors and action-directors.
Another positive wryly-realpolitik-weary aspect of the film is the way the crooked politician finds repeated ways to portray the vigilante assaults on them as terrorist acts, aided and abetted by Pakistan ! Pakistan has been India's bane admittedly, but India's bigger curse has been the spinelessness of its own public, including me - who think they are powerless to fight the venal politicos. Bhavesh realizes that the system won't help him, so he has to fight himself. He is not cut out to take Raveena Tandon's "Satta" route so he becomes a vigilante - he trains in martial arts, covers his face with an illuminated mask, and uses his engineering brain to tinker around and create a mean bike. He even installs an "ultra-charge" button to speed up the bike and the film delivers good fun in showing how this works out.
The few action sequences which impress, do more because of good story-boarding than due to technical virtousity. Bhavesh Joshi's assault at a assistant municipal officer in his home, its protracted messiness with more goons joining in, and a calamitous exit from a balcony is bone-crushingly real. The bike-borne hero's shenanigans in Mumbai's local railway stations is an inspired touch.
Nishikanth Kamath (director of such outstanding films as "Mumbai Meri Jaan") passes muster as the villainous corporator but sadly this is by no means a memorable role. This is where Motwane makes another crucial box-office-killing error - the film barely has any dramatically charged role to hook in the audience - contrast this with the legendary dramatic fireworks in another good vs bad film like the great 'Shool' or Heath Ledger's chilling 'Joker' in 'The Dark Knight'. Hero of the film Harshvardhan Kapoor is consistently good but here one has to be blunt about three things - he is not movie-star handsome, he has yet to show the terrific acting edge of someone like Nawazuddin Siddiqui who clicks despite not looking like Sean Connery, and after his debut dud ' Mirzya' , Harshvardhan has chosen another film that is not a sure-fire audience pleaser ( compare with his father's 'Nayak' which was a rip-roaring justice fight). Most gratifyingly for cinephiles like me, Harshvardhan Kapoor has his heart in the right place , but if he does not use his brains pronto, he may go the way of Abhishek Bachchan.
On a larger note, it is unclear how much disruptive effect the disbanding of the landmark "Phantom Films" had on Motwane's performance after a sex abuse scandal directed at another big-shot in the company. Motwane was one of the four members of this daring production house of quality Indian cinema and though 'Bhavesh Joshi SuperHero' released four months before the producing company's closure, what transpired in the preceding months and in 2017 would not have done much good to the film-making team's morale (it did not affect another team member Anurag Kashyap's success with 'Mukkabaaz').
Vikramaditya Motwane and Co. clearly had Part II planned going by the finale. Yes, the director should go ahead and make Bhavesh Joshi SuperHero Part II but you can already see potential producers falling back far away in slo-mo from this project, as though blown away and repelled by a box office bomb. Vikramaditya's task in pulling off 2.0 will therefore be much more difficult than whatever Bhavesh has to do next. But what was started lacklustrely must be finished properly. I will be gratuitous and preachy here - Motwane should obssessively watch Hollywood thrillers with frame by frame dissection ( if he has not done so already) - films like 'Casino Royale', 'Matrix' , 'Matrix Reloaded', 'Transporter' and understand how slickly an action film should really be executed. Then he will be able to make not just an excellent film hamstrung by anemic action chops, but a film that is outstanding in every respect.
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