Mumbai, 29 Mar 2019 7:00 IST
American filmmaker Chuck Russell’s maiden venture in Hindi is extremely disappointing.
The human-animal bond always makes for great viewing. Though it is seen more on infotainment channels on television these days, cinema, too, has celebrated this bond from time to time, Tarzan and Mowgli being two well-known examples. Hindi cinema has seen poor imitations of Tarzan, but the one film that has always been cherished is Rajesh Khanna’s Haathi Mere Saathi (1971).
In the new millennium however, animals have largely been used as props in mindless comedies. It has taken American director Chuck Russell to bring the human-animal bond back into Hindi cinema with Junglee.
Though he may look like one, Vidyut Jammwal is no Tarzan in Junglee. Raj Nair (Jammwal) is a Mumbai-based veterinarian. A bitter past has soured his relationship with father Dipankar Nair (Thalaivasal Vijay), who runs an elephant sanctuary in Chandrika. Raj is not on talking terms with his father, but he reluctantly agrees to visit his home town Chandrika for the tenth death anniversary of his mother.
On the day of his mother’s anniversary, Raj makes peace with the past and embraces his father. The night, however, turns into horror as tusk-hungry poachers, led by Keshav (Atul Kulkarni), hunt down innocent pachyderms.
Poaching is a dark global reality. In the Indian subcontinent, this evil is often traced to the demand for animal parts in a powerful, populous neighbouring country. While dreaded bandits like Veerappan have been eliminated, the region continues to be plagued by poaching.
Producers Junglee Pictures and director Chuck Russell raise a relevant issue but fail miserably with the execution. American filmmaker Russell has to his credit popular films like A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) and the Jim Carey-starrer superhero comedy The Mask (1994).
So what brings him to Junglee? Well, the question is best put to Russell. A better question might be, what does Russell take back from his maiden Hindi directorial venture?
Just take the elephants out and put humans in their place and Junglee will come across as your clichéd 'Bollywood' revenge drama.
Many people are involved with the film's story and screenplay. The story is credited to Rohan Sippy, Charudutt Acharya, Umesh Padalkar and Ritesh Shah. The poor screenplay is the handiwork of Adam Prince, another American import. Raaghav Dar is the creative director who is also credited with the additional screenplay. There are quite a few ‘additional’ credits. Leading man Vidyut Jammwal is also credited for 'additional' action choreography.
As the creative director, Raaghav Dar seems to be the man who perhaps held the strings together in this banal film. Was director Russell then just reduced to a titular head? Clearly, too many cooks have spoilt the broth.
The shambolic screenplay could still have attained some respectability if the cast had done a decent job. But they are all disappointing. The bulk of the blame must lie with Jammwal. There is a serious lack of intent on his part, which makes his act look staged.
Animal activists form a special bond with animals. They have their own ways of interacting with the creatures. But the manner Raj adopts is laughable. Fathom this. Upon his arrival in Chandrika, vehicles are halted by a herd of elephants who block the road. Our man walks up to them, sees the tears in their eyes, converses with them like with a group of human beings and learns that those elephants have lost a dear one to poaching. He apologizes, requests them to clear the road and the mammals obey. It happens only in 'Bollywood'.
Raj is the only child of Dipankar Nair but he grew up with the female elephant Didi and the male elephant Bhola. Jammwal has learnt a few physical gestures that mahouts employ to communicate with elephants, but there is no chemistry between him and his junglee friends. The action scenes, too, are not very flattering.
Junglee Pictures have introduced two new faces – Pooja Sawant and Asha Bhat. Sawant is a known Marathi film and TV actress. Bhat is a model and first-time actress. Sawant plays Shankara, a mahout and Raj’s childhood pal. She is let down by the screenplay but is the one artiste to show some serious intent.
Bhat plays Meera Rai, an overbearing journalist. She is out to interview Dipankar Nair but ends up covering a much bigger story. Meera is found wanting as a journalist while Bhat is found wanting as an actress.
Bhat can be excused as a novice, but there are no excuses for Jammwal, Atul Kulkarni, Akshay Oberoi and the seasoned Makarand Deshpande.
Dev (Oberoi) is Raj’s childhood friend who is now a forest officer. The film is set in Kerala but Dev and Raj address each as bhai. While it may be naïve to expect a Punjabi (Oberoi) and a Rajput (Jammwal) to speak in Malayalam or Malayalam-accented Hindi, but even in their body language or tone there is nothing Malayalee. Oberoi is wasted in this special appearance.
As Gajaguru, Deshpande displays a Malayalee’s love for alcohol all right but hams all the way as the forlorn Kalaripayattu master. In a bizarre sequence, Raj, who is down with a bullet, hears a voice and the deity Ganesh appears before his eyes. As things become clearer, however, it turns out it is not Ganesh but Gajaguru who is speaking to him.
Kulkarni plays a bizarre poacher. Keshav doesn’t hunt for money. For him, it is the battle with the big tuskers that gives him a kick. But when he sees a big tusker, he says almost sadistically, "Look at those tusks!" Keshav is one confused character, and Kulkarni only adds to the confusion with his poor act.
A clichéd story, loose screenplay, and poor performances make Junglee something fit for the elephants to trample into the dust.
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