Director: Vikramaditya Motwane
It’s easy to see where the cinematic inspirations lie in Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, but director Vikramaditya Motwane spells it out for us anyway. In one scene, the film’s protagonist tells a wide-eyed girl about Insaaf TV, an amateur vigilante outfit he’s founded with a friend to weed out local wrongdoings. “We are the Indian Justice League,” he says. “So you’re like Spider-Man?” she asks. “No, that’s Marvel. We’re DC Comics – darker, edgier, cooler.”
The film makes no bones about the fact that it’s an homage to DC’s most compelling character, the tortured, brooding hero, Batman. The masked vigilante in Bhavesh Joshi Superhero steps out under the dark cover of night in Mumbai to fight a system rotting with corruption, much like Batman’s home, Gotham. Motwane’s film is an adult superhero movie, a very different beast from Krrish.
But much like our protagonist’s vehicle of choice, a moody motorbike, the film too revs, slides and sputters, but only seldom soars despite its ambition. The blame, as is often the case, lies with the script. The story takes forever to set up; it’s overwritten in its details and gaping in its holes. If there are two ways to arrive at a point, you can be sure this film will take the longest route. So at two and a half hours it often feels like a drag.
Where it scores is in its emotional core – the story of two friends, Sikander (Harshvardhan Kapoor) and Bhavesh (Priyanshu Painyuli). Inspired by the national anti-corruption movement initiated by Anna Hazare in 2011, the two fellas launch a YouTube channel, Insaaf TV. Masked by brown paper bags they fight local misdemeanors like tree cutting, cable TV rackets, and public urination. They learn karate for self-defence, but Motwane is careful to stress that these are two ordinary boys, united in an extraordinary zeal for justice.
A lot happens over the next few years. One of the boys outgrows their initiative, takes up a corporate job, and prepares to head to America to build a new life. The other stays the earnest activist, and in his unflinching commitment to fight for the truth, uncovers a conspiracy to cripple the city’s water supply. It’s a conspiracy that involves dishonest cops, corrupt BMC officers, and leads right up to a nefarious minister (Nishikant Kamat). When things come to a head, a masked vigilante superhero – Bhavesh Joshi – is born, and he takes on this mafia.
Like Batman Begins, this is an origin story, and there are multiple nods to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy, and also to Roman Polanski’s detective noir Chinatown. The film takes off at interval point when our masked hero strikes the headquarters of the water-tanker mafia. The movie is enlivened by clever moments, like one involving the bike, a traffic light, and a particularly close brush with the bad guys.
Motwane mounts the film well, with striking cinematography by Siddharth Diwan that captures the seamy underbelly of the city, and a rousing background score by Amit Trivedi. There’s also a terrific chase that begins on the streets…and let’s just say imaginatively involves Mumbai’s lifeline, its railways.
Harshvardhan Kapoor, who’s at the centre of the story, starts out as a Peter Parker-like figure, a bland, unremarkable guy-next-door, who transforms into a crime-fighter when the stakes are high. Harsh does the job efficiently, nicely bringing out the ‘homemade superhero’ aspect of the character. In the role of his best friend, fresh-faced Priyanshu Painyuli plays his part with a passion that is palpable, while Ashish Verma, as Rajat, the third friend in their circle, is also solid. It’s a shame the film skimps on female characters, except for a token girlfriend (Shreiyah Sabarwal). While the supporting villains are well cast, Nishikant Kamat as the key bad guy deadens the flow with too much bak bak and unnecessary posturing.
Bhavesh Joshi Superhero is an impressive, admirable attempt at creating a vulnerable middle-class superhero in the real world, committed to tackling everyday challenges faced by the ordinary citizen. But it’s also bloated and indulgent, and that comes in the way of Motwane realizing the full extent of his vision.
I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five.