Junglee Review

Actor Vidyut Jammwal in a still from Chuck Russell’s film “Junglee.” The message behind the film’s story is praiseworthy, and the hand-to-hand action from Jammwal (partly choreographed by him) is exciting. (photo provided)

Produced by: Vineet Jain

Directed by: Chuck Russell

Written by: Mark Irwin, Adam Prince, Akshat Ghildial, Suman Adhikary,

Rohan Sippy, Charudutt Acharya, Umesh Padalkar & Ritesh Shah

Music: Sameer Uddin

Starring: Vidyut Jammwal, Pooja Sawant, Asha Bhat, Atul Kulkarni, Akshay Oberoi, Vijaya Kumar, Arcot Ramachandran, Vishwanath Chatterjee, Rohan Joshi Lars Kjeldsen, Agnelo Chang, Ania Zeyne, Makrand Deshpande, Sp. App.: Akshay Oberoi and others

Unlike a “Kung-Fu Yoga” (which was based in India and made abroad), this is an Indian film that has brought in a famous Hollywood director for a story completely based in India. The script was mostly written before Chuck Russell came on board, as he was known and also chosen for his films around animals.

Sadly, Russell has probably been inveigled into a project that is as trite as any film from the 1970s and 1980s. He has been unwilling – or unable – to contain the moth-eaten tropes and clichés of the worst of Hindi action films or has been conned into believing that these ingredients are a must to tell a story about animals and their nobility to the masses. The first half, admittedly, is decent, with the setting up of the atmosphere and the characters, though a tad slow.

But the second half goes awry – and we have a very, very ‘filmi’ climax. Every single formula in the book that could have been used in such a film, basically a revenge thriller, is used, never mind how dated or ridiculous it is. So, for starters, we have a mysterious misunderstanding between an old man (Arcot Ramachandran) and his son Raj (Vidyut Jammwal), both of whom along with Raj’s late mother, love(d) animals. The parents run a wildlife sanctuary, which is in dire need of funds. The son is running a super-luxurious veterinary clinic in Mumbai (!) and is told by his father to come for his mother’s tenth death anniversary ritual.

When he goes there (after 10 years), he reconnects with Shankhu (Pooja Sawant)m who has always been in love with him, and the other people there (we are never told the connection in most cases!) and is overjoyed to meet his favorite elephants – Didi, who is pregnant, and Bhola, the father of the unborn child. Bhola, however, possesses the longest tusk in the world.

These tusks attract international poachers, and their Indian contact (Atul Kulkarni) comes to do the needful. There is corruption among the cops and even forest rangers, and on the night of the death anniversary, both the old man and Bhola are killed. Oh, before that, he also clears the 10-year misunderstanding with his father, an absurd triviality the father could have revealed anytime in that decade, over a cup of herbal tea!

The message behind the film’s story is praiseworthy, and the hand-to-hand action from Jammwal (partly choreographed by him) is exciting. Jammwal also puts in a decent performance, but the rest of the things don’t fit and are not only sub-average for a Hindi film but also ridiculous because we thought Russell would do something even better than a potboiler exercise. And we wonder why eight cooks were needed to concoct this silly broth, where the emotional connect is nowhere near what it should be.

The songs are terrible, the BGM (Sameer Uddin with Tanuj Tikku) routine, the cinematography scenic (Mark Irwin and Sachin Gadankush) in the outdoors but just alright otherwise. In the acting department, Arcot is patently sincere and effective, and Atul Kulkarni gets a good cameo, though his character also adheres to some clichés in a wasted attempt to give him an extra dimension. Asha Bhat as the reporter is okay, but Pooja Sawant’s expressions are straight of a pre-1990s Marathi potboiler. The rest of the cast uniformly hams, led, of course, by Makrand Deshpande.

If so many Hindi films gone wrong can be called wasted opportunities, this one is worse, for Chuck Russell here had the chance to show his expertise at a simple Indian film on the cause of animals, that too real ones as in the old Disney times and homespun products like “Haathi Mere Saathi.” Sigh, once again the moral of the story is the same: EVERYONE cannot make a mainstream Hindi film.

Rating: **1/2 (Just about for the movie’s noble cause and the action)

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