Bhavesh Joshi Super Zero: The Vigilante Who Never Rises


Bhavesh Joshi Super Zero: The Vigilante Who Never Rises

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

In Vikramaditya Motwane’s Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, two college students Sikandar (Harshvardhan Kapoor) and Bhavesh Joshi (Priyanshu Painyuli) are among the horde of protesters detained in the aftermath of the 2011 anti-corruption movement. At the police station, the protesters sing motivational songs; their infectious energy wins the Mumbai police over in no time. Just when you settle in, bracing the film’s sombre but activist-y tone, it suddenly changes course. The protesters begin to evoke the hoary “Mumbai spirit” and start chanting “Sachinnn… Sachinn!”

Hilarious. In a way, this scene is also symbolic of the film’s proceedings.

Bhavesh Joshi Superhero wants to be a lot of things. It’s at once, a plea against armchair activism, a social-justice warrior comedy, a vigilante justice drama, an angry revenge thriller, and a superhero origin story. It essentially uses all the right words (atankwadi, anti-national, dushman ka agent) and touches upon pertinent topics (water crisis, fake encounters, widespread corruption, police apathy), but unfortunately has nothing new to offer. Come to think of it, even that would have been fine, if handled deftly, especially in the hands of a more accomplished actor.

In a film where several characters randomly carry out surgical strikes on each other, Motwane causes the most harm by self-sabotaging and casting Kapoor in and as Bhavesh Joshi Superhero. His vigilante friend’s death guilts him into taking Bhavesh’s place – with a shiny mask. Kapoor’s limited talent is glaringly visible in every frame he occupies. He’s unable to inhabit any persona other than that of a hero – he walks, talks, moves, cries, broods, and even drowns like a star and not an actor.

It’s precisely why his intensity comes off as comical, especially in a scene where he grieves his friend’s death and yells at a martial arts teacher, causing the entire theatre to collectively chuckle.

In a film about a rookie citizen going rogue, social awkwardness plays a significant role: You’d expect him to be scared, but more importantly, you’d expect him to be unsure of his actions. Kapoor unfortunately is too much in love with the idea of being a star to be able to evoke a vigilante.

Bhavesh Joshi

Bhavesh Joshi Superhero should have taken its own catchphrase seriously: “Heroes paida nahi hote.”

Image Credit: Phantom Films

No wonder then that he’s mostly out of the picture in the film’s first half, where Painyuli efficiently sets up the foundation for Bhavesh Joshi. Unfortunately, the film that proudly boasts traces of The Dark Knight, Kick Ass, and Chinatown, shortchanges him by dragging the eventuality of his death (and by extension, Kapoor’s transformation) for well over an hour. Naturally the film’s bloated and indulgent runtime, at 153 minutes, fosters repetition and the novelty wears off sooner than you’d expect.

But the main reason why Bhavesh Joshi Superhero feels so frustrating is because of what it could have been. The city that never sleeps is an apt backdrop (and antagonist) for an unsatisfied vigilante – who is considered a madman. To his credit, Motwane does milk every bit of Mumbai noir he can: right from an innovative bike chase on a local train platform (that also overstays its welcome) to a gorgeous fight sequence on a water pipeline. It’s competent but not compelling.

It’s also not like the film doesn’t know what it should be angling toward; it does have stray clues here and there. Like when a friend tells Sikandar that he can’t kill everyone just because they killed his friend. Or makes him realise the gravity of a death, that’s indirectly his doing. Bhavesh Joshi Superhero gets close, but never quite addresses the elephant in the room: the futility of vigilantism.

In a system where corruption is so deeply and systemically entrenched, vigilantism – no matter how noble – stands no chance. It’s as unchecked as the sins that are committed against innocent citizens every day. Moreover, vigilantism breaks rules the same way perpetrators do. Then how can it claim a moral high ground? And, more importantly, has it eroded the idea of justice?

Unfortunately, Bhavesh Joshi Superhero doesn’t seem too interested in answering any of these questions and that is the film’s biggest letdown. Instead, it indulges in weaving a naively optimistic superhero (Kapoor’s bike has superpowers and he is almost immortal) tale that’s as unrealistic as it is at odds with the theme.

As a result, the third act of the film is essentially a lesson in misdirection, desperate in its need to be Malad’s Rang De Basanti and surprised at its own ability to become Dahanu’s Shape Of Water.

Except, neither did Bhavesh Joshi need to be a superhero nor did the film require any heroism. It makes you wish the film took its own catchphrase seriously: “Heroes paida nahi hote.”