Cast: Harshvardhan Kapoor, Nishikant Kamat, Priyanshu Painyuli
Director: Vikramaditya Motwane
Rating: Two stars (Out of five)
In the dying minutes of Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, water scam kingpin Rana (played by Nishikant Kamat) narrates to the grievously wounded protagonist Sikanadar Khanna (Harshvardhan Kapoor) the Greek myth of Icarus. Carried away by pride and youthful enthusiasm, he flew too close to the sun. The wax clogs in his wings melted as a result and he fell off the sky. The problem with Vikramaditya Motwane’s fourth directorial venture isn’t that it soars too high. Its problem is that it simply doesn’t get off the ground. And this is definitely not for want of trying.
Bhavesh Joshi Superhero is about a trio of male friends who, galvanized into action by the 2011 anti-corruption movement, launch Insaaf, a campaign to punish errant citizens, the kind of who break traffic rules or urinate on city walls. As their crusade assumes serious dimensions, the film makes all the right noises, but is somewhat like the snazzy motorbike that the hero, a glowering software engineer who, five years on, is pitchforked back into the fight following the brutal killing of his best buddy, rejigs for maximum speed and high performance.
But when the man actually wants the machine to kick into top gear – in a long, monotonous chase sequence – it acts up and gives him no advantage over his pursuers, men in uniform marshalled by a corrupt corporator, until it is too late. This mirrors the fate of the film. It has many writing and technical strengths, but these do not come to its rescue when they are needed the most. Bhavesh Joshi Superhero is more an erratic, now-on-now-off ramble rather than a scintillatingly smooth ride.
The ambitions of this film, written by Motwane, Anurag Kashyap and Abhay Koranne, are epic all right, but the final yield is way less than the sum of its parts. It is an attempt to turn the superhero film on its head – the hero is anything but super and the arch-villain that he takes on isn’t an evil individual but an entire corrupt police-politician-mafia nexus that conspires to rob the people of Mumbai of their rightful share in the municipal water supply.
The film plays out in a familiar big city setting where the law is manipulated at will by the powerful, but the world in which the action unfolds is rather inexplicably devoid of women. In regular water scarcity sequences in commercial Hindi cinema, which are normally staged in squalid, overcrowded Mumbai slums, it is women who usually dominate the frame and bear the brunt of the crisis.
In Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, we instead watch shadowy men led by a slimy city politician and aided by government officials and compromised policemen pump water out of pipelines and into tankers to be sold at the price of petrol when demand peaks.
The film allows only one female character, the hero’s girlfriend Sneha (Shreiyah Sabharwal), some footage. But she never moves centrestage. The only other girl who has a speaking part in Bhavesh Joshi Superhero is one who is summarily put in her place for ridiculing the boys’ penchant for social activism. Your bravado is not going help you make any headway with the girls, she taunts the hero. Our concerns are far bigger, the slighted guy retorts.
In the same sequence, he says: we are the Indian Justice League. So, you’re like Spider-Man, someone says. No, that’s is a Marvel superhero, we are more DC Comics – darker, cooler and edgier. For the rest of the film, we desperately look for evidence of those attributes but largely in vain.
Angry lone-ranger activist Bhavesh Joshi (Priyanshu Painyuli) and superhero-obsessed graphic novelist Rajat (Ashish Verma) are the hero’s two buddies. It is Bhavesh who stumbles upon the water scam and decides to expose it on their social media channel. The protagonist, on his part, prepares to leave for Atlanta to set up a new office for the MNC that he works for. To expedite his passport application, he even greases the palm of a policeman. Bhavesh is livid at the capitulation. The altercation leaves Siku with a bloodied nose. Bhavesh tries to make it up to him, but a peeved Siku continues to play hardball with his friend.
The next thing we know is that Bhavesh is at the receiving end of the attention of dangerous goons who will stop at nothing to prevent the lid from being blown off their misdeeds. He is attacked by a mob for daring to speak the truth and revealing a shady aspect of the country’s commercial capital. He is branded an anti-national and told to go to Pakistan by a Bharat Mata Ki Jai-shouting crowd.
Bhavesh Joshi Superhero does have political undertones that allude to contemporary political realities and propensities that allow mobs to run riot and the media to let itself be manipulated, but the screenplay reveals these crucial elements in the plot only in fits and starts while the focus remains squarely on the vigilantism that the hero resorts to avenge his best friend. He dons a mask, assumes the identity of his dead pal, hones his martial arts skills under a master, and goes after the culprits all guns – metaphorical, not real – blazing.
What the film suggests in the end is that the very act of showing and speaking the truth is revolutionary at a time when the world has been overrun by lies. It takes over two-and-a-half hours to get to this point and that is at least 30 minutes too long.
So would Bhavesh Joshi Superhero have been a more scintillating action film had it not been so excruciatingly elongated? Difficult to vouch for that because in its bid to be dark, cool and edgy, it cannot shrug off its air of puerility. If not pure bunkum, it strays dangerously close, like Icarus, to slipping off its orbit completely. It returns to course occasionally but not often enough to steady its narrative arc.
One thing is for sure, Bhavesh Joshi Superhero isn’t likely to be the super-boost that the doctor has ordered for the career of Harshvardhan Kapoor.