Walking through dense jungles, this film’s characters themselves put out a Bollywood playlist for their audiences
Director: Amar Kaushik
Cast: Varun Dhawan, Abhishek Banerjee, Kriti Sanon
Soon as the three blokes — two of them buddies, third one they’ve just met — enter a wrecked Maruti 800, driving down from Itanagar airport in the opening-credit sequence, the background music unexpectedly breaks into a zingy, rap-like number, with everyone lip-syncing in the car, “Baaki sab theek? Bas chal raha hai!”
Firstly, where is Itangar, you may wonder. As do the two dudes from Delhi (Varun Dhawan, Abhishek Banerjee), who, like the rest of India, can’t tell between Manipur, Guwahati, Meghalaya, Itanagar — it’s all this nebulous thing called North East (N-E), isn’t it?
And yes, this picture touches upon that fact rather well, blending obvious lament, with a genuine lightness of touch, all through — a tone set by the opening song, followed by sad, romantic, even ‘item songs’, let alone self-aware joke after joke, sometimes to rile up the woke! But, hey, wait — the movie’s Bhediya; that’s a wolf, no? Yup!
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So you can treat all the top-class comic writing (Niren Bhatt), well enacted, executed, around curious characters, placed in the wondrously green, hilly N-E setting, as a solid, long, run-up — before we get to the actual delivery, in the interval block.
That there is a man (Dhawan), who indeed turns into a wolf. And that’s what you paid for. Everything else is what’s called ‘treatment’ (though equally precious, if not more, actually)!
It’s essential to note then that the frickin’ bhediya/wolf in the film looks, feels real enough for you to be careful with a creaking neck — in case you jolt, as the animal leaps before your eyes, behind 3D glasses.
One could have wished for more such ‘money shots’. But we know how much money the Life of Pi cost! Suffice it to know, the work on visual effects here — designed exclusively for full-scale, theatrical entertainment — offers just about enough bang for the buck!
We of course know that the werewolf itself is an eponymous, Hollywood sub-genre of sorts — with so many movies over generations/decades. Even while we consider only the popular ones, like Jack Nicholson’s The Wolf (1994), or Hopkins’s The Wolfman (2010), etc. The usual lot, otherwise, I guess, belong to B-movie slates?
As per larger genre convention, they involve a shapeshifter human, transforming into another specie. Walking through dense jungles, this film’s characters themselves put out a Bollywood playlist for their audiences.
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Naming ‘icchadhari’ naags from Naagin, Nagina, etc. Humming ‘Jhile le jhile le’ from desi Tarzan, playing Gulzar’s ditty for Jungle Book, ‘Chaddi pehenke phool khila hai’. Mentioning Rahul Roy as the man-tiger in Junoon (1992), the cult of Jaani Dushman, both the Sanjeev Kumar (1979) and Akshay Kumar (2002) starrers…
In all of this, the makers of totally A-grade Bhediya can rightly stake claim, as they have, of releasing India’s first creature comedy. I don’t remember seeing another.
Which as a choice is a comeback, nicely done, for Dhawan, after the embarrassingly cookie-cutter, Coolie No 1 (2020). Although must say, that ’90s remake should’ve
ideally been tested on theatrical audiences first — just to gauge current markets, since everyone’s convinced only spectacles work at cinemas.
Sure, Bhediya, with the camera in extreme low-angles, close-ups, even the lens going upside down, on occasion, is visual enough to qualify for a ‘spectacle’ — you even wear one for the screen! Also, what’s a movie, if not actors transforming into unlikely beings?
Unsure exactly what makes our main-man prance and pounce around as a bhediya on some nights, and not on some others, though. It’d be dumb to establish irrefutable logic. Also, hard, if not impossible, to conclude a pic like this.
That said, forget the star-turned-wolf. Even the ensemble cast looked slightly unrecognisable to me at first — Kriti Sanon in short hair seemed more Anne Hathaway as a Hollywood farm girl; and I couldn’t tell the deadly Deepak Dobriyal, at instant glance either.
The best lines in the movie, however, belong to Abhishek Banerjee, as the minion, hanging around with the capitalist-jerk hero, who’s busy with work, while this adorable, unemployed, delusional loser got nothing better to do. It’s the same actor + character from TVF’s desi Seinfeld-like show, Humorously Yours (2016), quite ahead of its times actually!
Between these fellows in the film and fun/funny stuff that flow throughout — you’ve got a fine follow-up to director Amar Kaushik’s debut, Stree (2018), stunning horror-comedy, with a great underlying theme. That movie is referenced here, with Rajkummar Rao showing up on screen as well. But I don’t think audiences will care that this movie is by the same producer (Dinesh Vijan), and director, of that sleeper hit, etc.
I’ll tell you the penny that will drop. The fact that once the script is fully framed within a genre, the filmmakers so smartly employ all available elbow room to seamlessly comment on so many things, personal and political — rights of natives, animals onwards; development vs destruction;
man vs nature... Nope, greed’s not good — this wolf’s against Wall Street, you know… Baaki sab? More than theek thaak!