Director: Amar Kaushik
Writer: Niren Bhatt
Cast: Varun Dhawan, Kriti Sanon, Abhishek Banerjee, Paalin Kaabak, Deepak Dobriyal
Bhediya displays layers of flesh, both literally and figuratively. Varun Dhawan is in his underpants for nearly half the film. (This is not an accusation). The story finds good reason to be a giant thirst trap. His character, Bhaskar, is a cityslicker who gets bitten by a wolf in the jungles of Arunachal Pradesh. The film’s best scene features Bhaskar morphing into a wolf, in agonizing detail. In a single take, the camera lingers on different parts of his naked torso as the creature violently pops out of his skin – a nice riff on the unbroken male gaze that has objectified the female body in all those ichadhari nagin stories over the years. At another point, a bulge in his boxers reveals a thick and throbbing snake, an innuendo that looks less tasteful than it sounds. It’s no coincidence that Bhaskar’s body exudes muscular beauty only after the beast within him awakens. Until then, he’s just a guy with a penchant for furry jackets.
At first glance, Amar Kaushik’s Bhediya (“Wolf”) is a nifty horror comedy with a message. Bhaskar is a greedy contractor from Delhi. He detests dogs and nature. His mantra is development at all costs. He arrives in the Northeastern town of Ziro for a major land acquisition project. The road he plans to build is supposed to connect the isolated state to the rest of India. But the catch is that it must cut through the region’s dense forest cover and displace hundreds of tribal villages in the process. His partners in crime are cousin Janardhan (Abhishek Banerjee) and in-house contractor Jomin (Paalin Kabak). They have no sense of empathy or ecological balance. The tribals, for them, are victims of evolution. A local liaison, Panda (Deepak Dobriyal), warns them of ‘Vishanu,’ a mythical creature that lurks in the jungles. But the men pay no heed. A lesson is imminent for the capitalists.
This is the second Hindi film of the year rooted in Northeastern integration. But unlike Anubhav Sinha’s heavy-footed Anek – driven by a secret agent who switches sides – Bhediya pokes fun at the mainstream-saviour trope: It’s driven by a not-so-secret agent forced to shift shape. Bhaskar’s ‘transformation’ arc is no metaphor: His wolf senses make him more alert to the world around him. When a terrified Jomin accuses Bhaskar of trying to eat him too, Bhaskar assures him that animals, unlike humans, do not discriminate. (If not for his appetite for pork and no beef, one might have even believed him). Every night, he unwittingly feasts on a new project associate – a hairy nod to the superhero-vigilante trope, where his murders have a moral edge to them. His lunar adventures also put him in touch with Dr. Anika (Kriti Sanon), the oddly aloof veterinarian who treats him. Something about Dhawan’s endearing desire to do better – and reach beyond his limitations as a commercial star – ties into Bhaskar’s conflict of turning into a beast that challenges his vanity. At one point, a spoofy scene that features Bhaskar’s friends psyching the wolf out of him adopts the tone of a director browbeating a career-defining performance out of an actor. If you listen closely, you might hear the voices of Sriram Raghavan (Badlapur) and Shoojit Sircar (October).