In what is one of the most striking visuals from Vikram Motwane’s Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, a man’s silhouette moves in slow motion (with a stick in hand) as the building behind him burns. It’s an almost near-perfect ode to Bollywood’s ‘beaten-and-cornered angry young man’ from the 70s and 80s, who usually had a similar scene where he would set the villain’s kaarkhaana (factory) on fire. And as he walked in slow-motion, a blazing background score would follow.
Motwane blends several genres with great confidence, and it’s fascinating to see him venture into uncharted territory. However, Bhavesh Joshi Superhero also becomes ‘vigilante against local corporator for dummies’ at some very crucial points, which quite frankly, is unbecoming for a writer-director of Motwane’s stature.
Bhavesh Joshi Superhero is an intriguing film, without ever becoming an inventive one. It adapts the man-against-the-system trope to a local Mumbai suburban setting (Malad, we’re told) and even as it begins like a home video, it does turn into something with many ‘dramatic-pause-before-a-spectacle’ moments.
It’s referenced in the movie too, where Harshvardhan Kapoor’s character is flirting with a girl in a club while bragging about his Insaaf (Justice) project. “Oh, so you guys are like Spider-Man”, asks the girl catching their ‘friendly neighbourhood superhero’ vibe, only to be met with an expression of horror. “No no, that’s Marvel. We’re like the Indian Justice League, DC. Darker and edgier…” – which is a great way of foreshadowing the events in the film. It begins with youthful exuberance, but soon moves into set-piece mode.
Bhavesh Joshi (a confident Priyanshu Painyuli) and Sikandar Khanna (Harshvardhan Kapoor) are like-minded idealists, who meet during 2011’s anti-corruption protests. Between comedic surrenders to the law enforcement and shouting slogans in jail, both characters become the embodiment of Jai-Veeru. And like most drinking sessions between good friends talking politics end – out pops the questions about what are ‘we’ really doing for the society? That’s when their little project is born. They save neighbourhood trees, straighten up local Internet providers (probably because YouTube is how they reach out to the world), and only after they chance upon an artificial shortage of water created by local politicians, do things start to get murky.
Sikandar or ‘Sikku’ as he’s called in the film (no relation to Race 3) and Bhavesh are characters straight out of a sitcom bubble, because we’re given no information about parents, relatives or loved ones.What makes them (especially Bhavesh) such rigid idealists? We’re never told.
As the film’s antagonist, Nishikant Kamat is arguably the film’s weakest link where he’s repeatedly seen speaking into a phone, saying something along the lines of ‘plan ke mutaabik‘. At one point, while narrating the legend of Icarus (big daddy of lazy expositions!) and recounting the moral of ‘flying too close to the sun’ he’s made to say, ‘I am the sun’.
Harshvardhan Kapoor is consistently ‘not bad’ in a role that requires someone with more grieving gravitas. But in spite of all the good intentions, he never really becomes ‘that underdog’ you want to root for.
Among Bollywood’s plethora of godawful superhero movies, Bhavesh Joshi Superhero stands tall and is easily the best film in the genre. But put to test within Motwane’s own stellar filmography, the film is probably Motwane’s weakest and (obviously his) most ambitious too. Whether it is our vigilante fighting atop the humongous water-pipes, or drifting his nitro-powered bike on FOBs and railway platforms – Motwane gives his superhero a stunning homegrown ‘only-in-Mumbai’ texture .
And even though he makes a brave choice in the film’s climax, one can’t help but wonder if there was a way to make it seem less like a drag. The tonal shifts in the dialogues are jarring. It takes an immensely crafty filmmaker to traverse the shores of both Kickass and Batman Begins simultaneously, and Motwane falls short. The contrivances (especially the BIG one in the climax) are impossible to ignore.
But it’s also extremely difficult to diss a fearless film like Bhavesh Joshi Superhero. The overarching theme of ‘anyone can be a hero’, the way Motwane weaves in the current political scenario (anti-national, mob lynchings per se), the sheer hopelessness in scenes featuring campy, corrupt and violent policemen and politicians – it’s all… there. But it doesn’t necessarily come together to become one flavourful dish. The makers do a funny spin on the staple Marvel post-credits scene and you wish the writing was really that self-aware through most of the film.
The film is subtle for the most part, in the way Motwane uses ‘only glasses’ as a disguise in the second half, 0r even when a scene begins from the shot of a character’s computer screen that reads ’21 Ways To Be Like Ranveer Singh’. Also, when a character discreetly enters the water-hoarding facility, the director leaves a bunch of oxygen cylinders in the background (implying the Uttar Pradesh incident).
Bhavesh Joshi Superhero has plenty of meat, which is why ‘true’ Vikram Motwane fans might resent this mediocre film, even more than a bad film. It’s still a class above Bollywood’s rest of the superheroes like Krrish, G.One and Flying Jatt – but Motwane never belonged in *that* league, did he?