After his mother dies, Bagheera escapes captivity and becomes a force to reckon with for everyone around except Mowgli, to whom he’s a friend who he’d protect at any cost. This one-liner isn’t exactly the story of Prabhu Deva-Adhik Ravichandran’s latest film Bagheera, but that of the fictional character of the same name from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. That said, Adhik’s film tries to replicate the story of the unlikely friendship between a man-cub and a black panther by replacing the latter with a psychopath and the friendly animals of the forest with “characterless” women who have had multiple relationships that have led to some heartbroken men. The film tries to mount a story on this fragile idea and what we end up with is a barrage of unfunny adult humour, boy-bestie jokes, callbacks to classic movies, and severely underused talents that together bog down what must have been Prabhu Deva’s role of a lifetime.
Adhik’s tryst with writing scenes involving a woman ditching her boyfriend for a better person, or how a woman drinking is a world-ending disaster, or how a woman’s virginity has to be preserved till she finds a husband, isn’t new. In fact, they make up almost the whole plot of his directorial debut, Trisha Illana Nayanthara. Meanwhile, his sophomore directorial, Anbanavan Asaradhavan Adangadhavan, tried mightily to push home the message that the love of men is purer and more sincere than that of women for whom it’s apparently easier to throw away a relationship. But these tropes hit the crescendo in Bagheera, in which our titular hero kills women who involve in the above-mentioned activities. If this brings up an assortment of films to your mind, it isn’t a surprise. The film feels like a mishmash of ideas borrowed from established titles like Anniyan, Manmadhan, Sigappu Rojakkal and Aalavandhan. There are also multiple scenes which seem to have been inspired by Hollywood films like Hereditary and Shining. Even the dead body of a pivotal character — who kills themself with what looks like an acid shower — ends up looking like Two-Face from The Dark Knight.
The biggest problem with Bagheera is that it doesn’t take itself seriously; the whole runtime is filled with some intentionally and many unintentionally funny moments. Similar to AAA, Bagheera also has a cop who, keeping in tradition with his ancestors in Tamil cinema, won’t solve the case until the very end of the film. But even that won’t explain why this cop, played by the usually-dependable Sai Kumar, pulls off a Rolex by carrying a large speaker to a crime scene and randomly takes a pair of scissors to cut the crime scene tape as if the character has confused himself into thinking he’s an actor invited to a garment shop’s opening function.
If the film’s premise isn’t problematic enough already, it only gets worse when they milk that concept in the name of humour. Knowing that the killer is out for blood and is striking at any woman who has ditched a guy, fathers and daughters throng to the commissioner’s office where the fathers cry out the number of guys their daughters have broken up with to the commissioner. The absurdity hits the roof when that scene ends with the commissioner wondering what her daughter’s count would be. And oh, did I mention the Bagheera app? The application lets men lodge complaints against women who “cheated” them by punching in details like their name, the years they spent in that relationship and a photo of their respective cheating partners as proof. And I thought nothing would top the Garudapuranam-powered anniyan.com.
What’s more painful are the film’s attempts to keep pointing out that the makers aren’t painting all women with the same brush. #NotAllWomen, I suppose? The dialogue writing doesn’t really help the film either. In one scene, a supposed mother meeting her supposed future daughter-in-law quips about how she’s proud that the young girl has never asked her son to book an Oyo room. ISRO’s next mission should probably be sending a new space probe to find a planet where such lines are considered jokes. Bagheera doesn’t break character even when he’s randomly sitting in a car. A girl who asks him to save her from molesters finds him giving the cold shoulder because “what’s a good girl doing at a boy’s hostel at night?” But when he finds out that she really is a “good girl” who had come to meet her boyfriend of eight years, Bagheera saves her because such women are apparently hard to come by and must be saved at all costs. Somedays, you’re just glad that you didn’t have an expensive tub of popcorn on your lap that you might have sent flying in despair.
What comes as probably the only silver lining is Prabhu Deva for whom Bagheera offers the scope to perform unlike any other film has over his almost three-decade run as an actor. Keeping the film’s insurmountable problems aside, it’s the actor’s unique comedy timing, body language, and dance, of course, that offer respite. The actor aces in distinguishing his various characters with his appearance and acting. There are even references to the actor’s legendary songs like ‘Vennilave Vennilave’ and ‘Chikku Bukku Rayile’. In the last twenty-odd minutes, where his psychosis is out on full display with a remix version of ‘ Pattukottai Ammalu’ for company, the actor pumps in a good dose of freshness the film desperately needed by then. However, the damage by then was far worse for anything to save the film.
In the end, the film pulls off a 360 and tries to convince you that it always had its heart in the right place. And that only reminded me of Idharkuthane Aasaipattai Balakumara, a film that was filled with jokes about drinking but ends with a note stating how it’s injurious to health. That film was funny, at least. Bagheera, for all the countless female leads it possesses, doesn’t offer decent screen time to any one of them except Amyra, and that’s the least of its worries. On the whole, Bagheera is a hodgepodge of tropes from famous serial-killer movies and all the bar songs in which heroes thrash their love interests before reuniting with them. In the Jungle Book, Bagheera saved Mowgli but this Bagheera doesn’t save his Mowgli, and to make matters worse, makes us feel like we’re the man-cub.
Bagheera is currently running in theatres