Director Amar Kaushik has this knack for skillfully placing a slice of social commentary between loaves of fantasy and comedy, with the messenger being a social outlier. In Stree, his debut feature, it was a witch who inverted the gender dynamics of a village. In Bhediya, it is a werewolf whose dogged approach leaves us with an important lesson on saving the environment and preventing a pandemic. Told in a popular idiom that extracts willful suspension of disbelief, Bhediya has enough bite for those who believe in the power of parables.
Bhaskar (Varun Dhawan) is an upcoming building contractor who is hired by a big shark (Saurabh Shukla) to clear the forest of Arunachal Pradesh, to build a road by selling the development narrative to the locals. On a full moon night, Bhaskar gets bitten by a wolf and turns overnight into a shape-shifting creature. It leads to a riveting conundrum. The animal in him wants to save the forest, while the man in him — for whom nature is the flowerpot on the balcony and the animal is the pet dog of his boss — is keen to turn Ziro into a profitable venture.
Writer Niren Bhatt explores the fun side of fables and punctuates the storyline with the ironies that life throws at us. Set in the North East, beneath the frolic, there is a timely debate on who is the outsider and the idea of purity of language.
Before the critics could point out the reference points, the characters themselves discuss the Bollywood legacy of shape-shifting creatures. The humour is situational and emanates from the practical difficulties of being a werewolf. How should a vegan behave when he discovers that he is half-animal? How should his friends address his concerns? The jokes keep the narrative moving up the hill.
Arunachal Pradesh is still a virgin territory for Hindi films and one can breathe the fresh air. Amar and the technical crew also manage to create a sense of dread and anxiety in scenes where Bhaskar transforms into a wolf or when he is on the prowl. Those who have grown up watching the vampires and werewolves in the Twilight series won’t be disappointed by the special effects of wolves howling in front of picturesque backgrounds or leaping at you in 3D. Composers Sachin Jigar weave an evocative musical tapestry around the bloody trail.
Varun often plays self-seeking characters, lacking moral fibre who transform along the way. Here again, as Bhaskar gradually learns to value nature, we develop a soft spot for the flawed character, who like many of Varun’s characters, is charmingly silly. The beard looks good on him and the chiseled body provides a counterpoint to the crumpled repartees between Bhaskar and his boys’ group.
Surprisingly, Kriti Sanon, who looks sharp in the new haircut, has been cast in a role that is not fully actualised on screen. But it doesn’t impede the flow of the narrative, as Amar is more interested in exploring the comic chemistry between Varun and Abhishek Banerjee who plays Bhaskar’s friend Guddu. In fact, Abhishek has got the best punchlines and delivers them effortlessly with a poker face. The seasoned Deepak Dobriyal brings his expertise in turn of phrase to the table, and newcomer Paalin Kabak adds to the texture.
There are long passages of self-awareness where the makers seem struck with what more to do with the wolf in the room beyond milking the quirky situation. The editor is also a little charitable, allowing some of the crucial scenes to meander, but eventually, the idea shines through.
Bhediya is currently running in theatres