‘Bhediya’: Quite the Rumble in the Jungle

By Shubhra Gupta

Cast:  Varun Dhawan, Abhishek Banerjee, Paalin Kabak, Deepak Dobriyal, Kriti Sanon
Director: Amar Kaushik
Rating: 3 stars

Humans turning into werewolves is such a familiar trope that the thought of seeing yet another version wasn’t making me jump: I’m happy to report that much of ‘Bhediya’, in which a principal character turns into an ‘icchha-dhaari’ wolf, is really enjoyable.

And very scenic at that: the film has been shot in Arunachal Pradesh, the gorgeous Northeast state which hasn’t yet been trampled upon by tourists. On a mission to build a road that cuts right through a lush forest, Bhaskar Sharma (Varun Dhawan) finds himself turning into a werewolf, you know, the creature that bays at the full moon, howls reverberating through the valley. Bhaskar’s companions, Guddu (Abhishek Banerjee) and Jomin (Paalin Kabak) do the stunned-horrified-now-what-to-do number, even as a local veterinarian (Kriti Sanon) shoves suspicious injections into Bhaskar’s rear, a body part that yields itself to a never-ending string of juvenile jokes.

In fact, juvenalia reigns supreme pretty much throughout the film. Much of the humour takes the scatological route, finding its jollies in, literally, people sitting on the pot, excrement, and the sights and smells thereof. Janardan, performing the hero’s BFF/sidekick, clowns well, and so determined is he that we will laugh at his antics, that we succumb.

Dhawan does a good job of aligning with the tone of the film — the horror is pretty much ‘naam-ke-vaaste’, comedy is what it is interested in—and gets several occasions for a detailed turnover, from human to werewolf, even if the creature swings between looking scarily real to one which is constructed-by-graphics. Back flexing, hair spouting, tail sprouting, teeth sharpening– the CGI guys are clearly having a good time. So is Dhawan, who puts his ability to not take himself seriously to use, and that works to the advantage of the film.

Of course, the whole point of ‘Bhediya’ is to show Bhaskar and his pals the error of their callous ways, and we get several underlined speeches about ‘prakriti’ and ‘progress’, and the importance of conserving forests and nature. But the characters mouthing these lines manage to not sound preachy, and part of that’s got to do with a local fellow (Deepak Dobriyal, nearly unrecognisable in a shaggy wig) who acts as a bridge between these misguided citified guys, and the people of region who care for their environment. The film also slips in a few lectures about racism: ignoramuses from North India will call a local chowmein, at least once, and make fun of ‘outsiders’ before learning their lesson.

The film does falter in never quite figuring out quite what it wants to do with its sole female character, even in her relatively meagre arc: when Sanon is introduced, as a fumbling ‘jaanwar ka doctor’, we are encouraged to laugh at her, and the script takes its own sweet time to rectify that initial reaction. It also goes overboard in terming the locals superstitious, saying ‘yahaan toh aise hi hota hai’: an ‘ojha’ shows up to unpack the myth of the werewolf, and the shamanesque picturisation comes this close to caricature.

But again, the film pulls back, right in time, with a well-judged potty-mouthed line or two, and its characters bumbling about like silly idiots to some zippy tracks. This is where the film is surest, and this is where director Amar Kaushik is most confident, given that he’s given us similar characters in his earlier ‘Stree’, and ‘Bala’. And given that these guys are on screen most of the time, peak silly idiocy performed with sureness is pretty much what we get. A couple of moving moments, shared between Sanon and Dhawan, break the ha-ha-hee-hee, and provide a bit of depth. But so determined is the film to not get ‘serious’, that those moments come and go, making you wish there were more of them.

Clocking 2.36 hours, ‘Bhediya’ starts wearing out its welcome around its stretched-out climax. But when the going is good, this rumble in the jungle is quite a romp. — Indian Express