A creature feature is the last genre that I expect Bollywood to nail on this date. After all, how will you insert a dance number or a mandatory romantic track? Will the censor board be kind to the gore quotient, or will the distributors raise a false alarm? Amar Kaushik’s Bhediya, that way, is one-of-a-kind. Packaged as a family entertainer, the Varun Dhawan-Kriti Sanon film stays true to its promise. It is a legitimate creature drama with dollops of Bollywood elements tastefully thrown in.
Set amid the jungles of Arunachal Pradesh, Bhediya is about Bhaskar (Dhawan) who is in the process of closing a highway project in the region which would lead to an imbalance in the local ecosystem. Bhaskar’s scheme is straightforward. When the older generation refuses to budge, the man lures the Gen-Z with promises of multiplexes, Starbucks and the like. On a fateful night, following the famous man versus nature tussle, he gets bitten by a wild wolf (‘Bhediya’ in Hindi). Bhaskar’s comrades – Abhishek Banerjee (who lands up straight from the sets of Stree) and newbie Paalin Kabak – take him to the local vet Dr Anika (Sanon) for treatment. As seen in the trailer, it takes no time for the wounded Bhasker to develop the features of a wolf to later go on the prowl.
The story, although simple, is caked with a delicious layer of desi humour. This way, the writer (Niren Bhatt) manages to make the rather spooky central theme friendly to family audiences. Filmed in 3D, the VFX – which is fantastic for the industry’s standards – gives the film the gloss of a Hollywood fantasy. Amar Kaushik garnishes the screenplay with jump scares galore which, despite the cliché, is great fun in a film driven primarily by crackling humour. What doesn’t work on the writing front is the unnecessary insertion of a track that appeals to be inclusive of Northeast Indians. Is it relevant? Yes. Does it break the flow of the film? Also, yes. The other notable glitch is where a bunch of characters tease us but their actions (or presence) seldom develop into anything. As a result, the actors, albeit their proven talent, end up being wasted in a film fuelled by four principal performers, a Maruti 800 and a CGI wild animal.
Varun Dhawan is superb in a physically taxing part as he lends organic wit and vulnerability to Bhasker. Kriti Sanon shines in a crucial role which somehow takes shape only towards the end. While I didn’t quite dig their romantic angle (including the forced love song), the climactic twist at the hilltop does tug at our heartstrings. Abhishek Banerjee is a riot as Janardhan and his one-liners contain the muscle to drive a dozen horror comedies. Paalin Kabak, who plays Jomin, makes a spirited debut. I wish the hugely talented Deepak Dobriyal got more meat to chew on. The ambiguity surrounding his character does not work. Saurabh Shukla disappears once the film enters the creature zone, leaving us wondering why he signed up for the part in the first place.
Jishnu Bhattacharjee’s cinematography is lush, and the colour grading renders the frames all the more stunning. Sachin-Jigar’s soundtrack is just about passable considering what we have heard from the duo in their previous outings. The sound design (Kunal Sharma) deserves a giant shoutout for the stellar atmospherics it lends to Bhediya. Costumes (Sheetal Iqbal Sharma) and makeup (Amrendra Sharma) contribute amply to elevating the film which is driven by smashing visual effects (MPC).
Amar Kaushik’s film in some ways is a soul sequel to his immensely loved 2018 film Stree. The filmmaker has cracked the code to marry masses-friendly humour to chilling (at times, nerve-wracking) horror themes. Bhediya goes a little overboard in places (the bathroom sequence was needlessly gross) but what is there to complain about in a film that entertains while also breaking new ground for mainstream Bollywood?
Rating: ★★★ 1/2
Author at Filmy Sasi