Vikramaditya Motwane's directs Harshvardhan Kapoor in this vigilante tale from the streets of Mumbai
Indian director Vikramaditya Motwane is responsible for some of this decade's most critically lauded Hindi language films, but his latest, the vigilante thriller Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, is a piece apart from his previous work. In Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, his fourth feature, Motwane expands his palette from romance (Lootera), indie drama (Trapped), and coming of age drama (Udaan), to include action and message-oriented thrillers, and the results are quite impressive.
The story of Bhavesh Joshi Superhero centers around a small group of friends who are fed up with the rampant corruption at every level of government in the megalopolis of Mumbai and decide to do something about it. In the truest of millennial fashions, Bhavesh (Priyanshu Painyuli), Siku (Harshvardhan Kapoor), and Rajat (Ashish Verma) head straight to YouTube, creating an online show about Insaaf (Justice), in which they attempt to right some of the trivial wrongs that plague their city. At first the show is relatively innocuous, solving or at least confronting corruption among local police and government officials in easily resolvable ways. However, when they stumble upon a major conspiracy to control the water supply, things start getting very real.
While Siku is consumed with his struggle to acquire a passport so he can go work in the U.S., Bhavesh becomes obsessed with breaking the water scandal wide open, and soon he bites off more than he can chew and becomes a target for local goons. Before long, Bhavesh's ambition gets the best of him and things start to get sideways in a way that reels Siku back in from the cold.
More Kick-Ass than Batman, Bhavesh Joshi Superhero is far more of a vigilante story than a superhero story, but when your city needs a hero, a simple idealist in a mask isn't much of an inspiration. There has to be a sense of mystery, a sense of invincibility, and a sense that the only thing that really matters is insaaf (justice), and that any harm to life and limb is simply the cost of doing business.
While Bhavesh Joshi Superhero doesn't necessarily break a lot of new ground on the world cinema front, it's certainly an exciting development for Hindi cinema with director Motwane turning his considerable skills to my beloved genre cinema for the first time. This film is so far outside the type of work that we are used to seeing from him that it's kind of shocking how accomplished it is. Action is tight, camera work is interesting, and the martial arts are fun to watch. The film is certainly longer than it needs to be at a hair over two and a half hours, it does use its time wisely for the most part, leaving the audience little space to catch a breath.
The major weak spot I was looking out for going in was leading man, Harshvardhan Kapoor. A performer who had only one film credit under his belt in the disastrous Mirzya, Kapoor benefits from Motwane's direction and writing, doing a good job of both mitigating possible damage by playing to his strengths (brooding as often as possible) and keeping his scenes focused on action. Kapoor's performance as Siku is commendable, and something I didn't think he had in him, but that's the power of a great director, to draw from performers their best work, and Motwane has done this time (Sonakshi Sinha in Lootera) and time (Rajkummar Rao in Trapped) again.
Bhavesh Joshi Superhero is a vigilante story unlike anything India has seen so far, and a message movie in which the message is integrated into the film in a way that isn't' preachy, but also manages to get the job done. With corruption a topic of daily conversation on the streets of every big city and small town in India, it's no wonder that stories about it take up tons of space on the nation's cinema screens, but none have managed to do so with quite the deft hand and excellent storytelling of Motwane's latest.
Vikramadtiya Motwane is well on his way to becoming the next international marquee name out of India, alongside his producing partner Anurag Kashyap. What he possibly lacks in utter fearlessness, he more than makes up for in breadth of talent and an ability to take on a diverse selection of topics and genres, each with equal aplomb. Bhavesh Joshi Superhero is another impressive outing for this filmmaker, and it definitely deserves some international recognition, so check it out, it might be playing on a screen near you.