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‘Bhediya’ review: Varun Dhawan’s werewolf act is less interesting than the message


Express News Service

It’s funny how crores of rupees of creature effects cannot achieve what a neatly honed psychological performance could. Bhediya, now out in theatres, isn’t the first time we are watching Varun Dhawan transform onscreen from man to beast. He did it exceptionally well several years ago in Badlapur — without claws, fangs, fur or a shiny, luxuriant tail.

That 2015 film, about a man transformed by his need for revenge, was the real deal, and better suited for a truly animalistic metamorphosis. Amar Kaushik’s Bhediya literalizes that experience for a general audience, yet Badlapur, to my mind, is the better werewolf movie. 

Small-time contractor Bhaskar (Varun) is sent into the forests of Arunachal Pradesh to secure land from local tribals. Bhaskar’s boss, Bagga (Saurabh Shukla), wants to construct a road there – ushering in a new era of ‘development’ in the region at the cost of the environment and ecology.

Predictably, some resistance, social or supernatural, is to be expected. Bhaskar is joined in his mission by his IAS-aspirant cousin, Janardan (Abhishek Banerjee, who looks oddly familiar from….those cheekbones…) and Jomin (Arunachali actor Paalin Kabak), his local friend. The trio drives down from Itanagar to Ziro, crooning a road song straight out of a mid-2000s Bollywood jukebox (composers Sachin-Jigar in fine form).

Negotiations begin. Bhaskar, pressed for time, enters an uneasy alliance with a clutch of local officers. They all appear greedy and pliable save for Panda (Deepak Dobriyal), who cautions against the ‘Vishanu’, a mythical shapeshifting werewolf said to stalk and protect these woods. Bhaskar laughs it off. “You know money,” he says.

“It’s our biggest weapon.” One night, while on a loo break in the jungle, he gets bitten in the rump by a said werewolf, following which he is treated by reclusive vet Anika (Kriti Sanon).  As in superhero origin movies, Bhaskar’s initial transformation is favourable: he develops a heightened sense of sound and smell, ‘beefs up’ considerably, and, as Janardan points out, even acquires Anil Kapoor’s jaunty walk. 

Bollywood creature features in the past have ranged from embarrassing to unwatchable. By that measure – and watching as I did in 3D – the VFX in Bhediya holds up well. My main concern, however, is with the familiar drift of storytelling and myth-building. Producer Dinesh Vijan has said that the legend of the ‘bhediya’ has indigenous roots in Arunachal.

If so, why not lean into that mythology a little bit more? Right from the opening scene of a hunter relating a popular children’s fable, to the Jungle Book theme tune that accompanies Bhaskar on his bare-bodied morning runs, to mentions of ‘Hulk’ and ‘lycanthropy’, the film strains to put an unfamiliar audience at ease. It even references iconic Hindi films like Jaani Dushman and Junoon, while lacking their kitschy transcendental spunk.

ALSO READ | ‘Bhediya’ showcases scenic beauty, cultural grandeur of Arunachal Pradesh: CM Pema Khandu 

The humour, likewise, blows hot and cold. Abhishek Banerjee is delirious as the easily-spooked Janardan (it gets to a point where watching him open a coke can in the midst of a stakeout will crack you up). Varun, the supposed hero of this film, is funniest when turning his bum away from a pointy syringe. There is a brilliant, brilliant gag involving a famously nasal Bollywood singer. It works because both setup and punchline work in tune with the crisis at hand.

In his debut film Stree (2018) — which shares its universe with Bhediya — Amar was smart enough to ration out the laughs, working instead with mystery and scares. But Bhediya has no mystery whatsoever (the ending twist barely qualifies as one, though some might lap it up). It’s funny to see Bhaskar’s knickers hang off his animal hind – for the first few times. Also, for a werewolf movie, the brutality is surprisingly child-friendly, shot out of focus or sneakily off the frame.

ALSO READ | Want to bring public to theatres with ‘Bhediya’: Varun Dhawan  

It feels strange to say, but Bhediya is more forthright and observant about the everyday problems of the Northeastern states than the more politically-minded Anek some months ago. Bhaskar’s appeal to the villagers isn’t so much evil as a practical eventuality. He too, in time, finds a compromise. Early on in the film, Janardan – who is later revealed to be Janna from Stree – mispronounces Jomin as ‘Chowmein’.

I groaned at the joke only to be reassured by their later exchange, wherein Janna prizes friendship and togetherness above all. “To cut off an entire region and call it China is not fair,” Jomin says before that. From its inception, mainstream Hindi cinema has carried the mantle of national integration. It’s nice to see horror comedies do their bit.

Movie: Bhediya

Cast: Varun Dhawan, Kriti Sanon, Abhishek Banerjee, Deepak Dobriyal, Paalin Kabak

Directed by: Amar Kaushik


(This story originally appeared in Cinema Express)

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