‘Bhavesh Joshi Superhero’ review: Second Chances

LICH rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5) (This rating is only a snapshot. The details are in the words.)

It has to be one of life’s—and cinema’s—stories that are steeped in inscrutable irony. The Kapoor siblings—Sonam and Harshvardhan—had, for the dramatically inclined, a box-office faceoff of sorts on June 1, 2018 when their movies arrived in cinema halls the same day. While the sister’s Veere Di Wedding went on to mint money, her sibling’s project had to face ignominy because his outing was ignored by the audience at large. Most of the cine-going folks, seduced by the glossy promos of a modern-day wedding, rushed in to whet their appetites and returned with the empty calories of fluff, theater snacks, and debate on the use of a vibrator in the movie. The tragedy didn’t end there. Over that weekend in June, the motley girls with wax, vex and sex on their minds replaced the brother’s movie across screens, sealing the latter’s fate forever, with the collections barely over a crore of Indian rupees.

Until, enter Netflix. The streaming service pushed Bhavesh Joshi Superhero on their platform on August 25, 2018. They might have as well released the movie in another galaxy to an entirely different race; for, the very audience who’d given the movie the heave-ho in the cinema hall—LICH included—are now lapping it like there’s no tomorrow for heroes. While there’s no fathoming why, there’s no question that Director Vikramaditya Motwane, co-writing with Anurag Kashyap and Abhay Korrane came up with a brave new, fantasy-less world of superheroes for Indian cinema.

The movie opens with a narration and scene that’s a doff to Christopher Nolan‘s Dark Knight trilogy, and it continues its nods to the series throughout its running time. And that’s not a bad thing at all—the real cities of India are scarily similar to the fictional dystopian setting of Gotham . Very quickly closing into the political events in India circa 2011, Motwane captures the zeitgeist of the country’s hopes then: the removal of corruption, entwined into the system’s spine, now seemed a possibility. There was the wave of populace that rose up as one. This would change the nation’s future and rewrite its place in the hall of democratic nations. Bhavesh (Priyanshu Painyuli) and Sikandar Khanna aka Sikku (Harshvardhan Kapoor) join the protests just for the heck of going to jail, grabbing their new found friend Rajat (Ashish Verma, very good) along with them. There’s a lesson here for us all: desperate for change, we cling on to anything that comes in the form of a new wave, ride on the euphoria, and then come crashing down as the tide ebbs, leaving us with the soggy carcass of our hopes and the downing prospect of facing everyday life. While the dispirited Sikku and the blasé Rajat plunge into the inevitable—and respectable—pool of corporate cycle, Bhavesh continues his crusade on the online Insaaf (Justice) TV channel that he and Sikku had been running. While the Insaaf run-ins for justice are mostly comical thus far, the next phase of Bhavesh’s crusade turns serious. Dead serious.

Harshvardhan Kapoor and Priyanshu Painyuli, unknowing of the horror that lies ahead.
Harshvardhan Kapoor and Priyanshu Painyuli, unknowing of the horror that lies ahead.

In the meantime, Sikku’s gotten a chance to go to the land of milk and honey, but he still faces the prospect of bribing the cops to get his passport on time. He eventually gives in and this riles Bhavesh no end. Motwane uses the singeing power of the online world to rip the friends’ lives apart, even as he exposes the venomous power of the internet that’s been handed to all of us—here, a rant that’s posted online that turns into a mob manipulation, patriotic exercise and excess that’s controlled by  local don Patil (Pratap Phad) who’s in turn stringed by the local political leader Rana (Nishikant Kamat), who also controls the police, repped by Sunil Jadhav (Chinmay Mandlekar). Circumstances force Sikku to take a second look at his American sojourn and also keeping girlfriend Sneha (Shrieyah Sabharwal) safe.

Harshvardhan Kapoor is haunted and hunted.
Harshvardhan Kapoor is haunted and hunted.

Bhavesh Joshi is timely. It’s also relevant and hard-hitting. Painting a bleak system the way it is, it mostly doesn’t pull its punches or its messages. It works when it isn’t fooling around, when it smashes your comfort levels in gritty set pieces: a rain-soaked murder sequence set amidst a water-tanker farm is horribly hypnotic; here, composer Amit Trivedi scores a fantastic piece, a mournful cello that’s constantly hammered by an ominous percussion. Elsewhere, the music director’s work pulses like veins in the flesh, broken bones, and blood that is Bhavesh Joshi.  The climactic fight sequence atop a water pipeline—in Mumbai’s relentless monsoon again—is splendidly shot, the hero’s red-glow mask a surreal prop in the magical, comic strip-like blue-bathed scene; here, Trivedi punches in his theme music—glancing beautifully at Hans Zimmer—the scythe-like pieces offering no hope whatsoever. Where the movie fails is when it tries to take the easy way out—when a hunted character nonchalantly strolls the lanes of Mumbai and his friend makes him out: wouldn’t the wary cops have done that sooner? Or the ease of hacking into a protected database that’s a short-cut to explain away all the niggling details.

Pratap Phad crackles
Pratap Phad crackles.

And yet, Bhavesh Joshi is an achievement for all that it speaks to; of the impossible task an everyman faces when he takes to the ridiculous notion of cleansing a system that’s murky and rotten, where even a flick of a cleaning cloth would mean it comes crashing down on the very people who’re burdened by it. When Sikku refuses to pay bribe money for his passport and you sigh, wondering why he’s make it tough for himself, you know the system’s well and truly entrenched within you. The action scenes are all too believable as are the political shenanigans. Even if you’ve seen it all too many times onscreen and off it Joshi makes you sit up regardless. That’s because there’s no beauty or childlike wonder here; it’s all dark and menacing most of the time. Making the project a winner is its cast: as the water mafia goon, Pratap Phad is absolutely fantastic, his evil demeanor not leaving his side even when he dances in a bar. Chinmay Mandlekar as the cop who’s on the heels of Bhavesh and Sikku and pivots is in top form, while Nishikant Kamat swings between effective and sudden uncertainty in his act. Priyanshu Painyuli as Bhavesh Joshi is simply terrific, his act a shattered portrait of everything that’s wrong and wronged.

The action pieces are superb in Bhavesh Joshi.
The action pieces are superb in Bhavesh Joshi.

And it is Harshvardhan Kapoor who quietly, winsomely wins you over. He breaks out in a spectacular act that’s forever cloaked in a brittle bandage of vulnerability that’s never taken off. His shuffled, cagey walk, his faltering action, including his training sequences—that were shot in the sequence in which his real-life training for this role progressed—are all beautifully done. For his act and Motwane’s direction, you applaud Bhavesh Joshi ‘s resurrection; not just as audiences watching what they missed on the big screen, but wanting to realize more of the story’s potential: possibly as a Netflix series to take what’s a potentially powerful franchise waiting to be made, to the next level. To put it in hashtag lingo, #BringBhaveshBack (#BBB). For, ordinary people who take on the painful mantle of becoming superheroes have feelings like the rest of us. And like us, they’d appreciate a second chance too.

LICH ratings chart
1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5): Don’t bother
2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5): Not too great
3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5): Worth a watch
4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5): Very good
5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5): Drop everything else NOW

Bhavesh Joshi Superhero (2018) on IMDb

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Bhavesh Joshi Superhero is rated U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years) There’s violence and intense sequences.

Bhavesh Joshi Superhero
Director Vikramaditya Motwane Running Time 2h 34min
Writers Vikramaditya Motwane, Anurag Kashyap, Abhay Korrane
Stars Harshvardhan Kapoor, Priyanshu Painyuli, Ashish Verma, Nishikant Kamath, Chinmay Mandlekar, Pratap Phad
Genres  Action, Drama

Watch the trailer of Bhavesh Joshi Superhero here: