We have been surprisingly unimaginative when it comes to creating Superheroes. The last original, most elaborate templates we have had, came from scriptures that were thousands of years old. Even though they were brilliant masterpieces of writing and character arcs, Ramayana and Mahabharata had become infused into a larger world religion, and their characters had become Gods, far removed from the complex, flawed personalities superheroes have. It wasn’t until the early 90s that ‘cable’ globalized Indian Television through privately-owned TV channels like Star and Zee, who had partnered with their western counterparts, bringing us high-quality content hitherto unheard of. It was during this Cable Revolution that India’s Comics scene sprang into life. Perhaps. for the first time in our history, we were talking about Super-humans who were not gods. These were city-dwelling protectors who were a lot more relatable to the kind of struggles that a modern, developing nation like ours goes through. Characters like Nagaraj, Supercommando Dhruv, Parmanu, Doga, etc., captured our imaginations like never before. However, as we grew up, it became apparent that our comic book superheroes were just derivative versions of what the west already had for several decades. As reality sunk in, every teenager had started making the sad transition from Raj Comics to DC/Marvel. With the Internet Revolution, there was nothing left to transition from. Raj Comics disappeared into oblivion and with it, all the characters we doted on once.
Television and Bollywood had their own superhero trajectories. Shaktimaan (1998 — 2005) played by Mukesh Khanna and directed by Dinkar Jani was the first consciously created superhero and became immensely popular, eventually partnering with Raj Comics to bring out comic-book versions of the series. Despite its appeal, Shaktimaan spoke directly to kids and couldn’t really stay relevant once those kids, who were the target audience, grew up. Superhero films in Bollywood suffered a similar fate. Keeping aside Ajooba (1991) and Baahubali (2015-2017) which were more fantasy than modern superhero films, Rakesh Roshan’s Krrish (2003 – 2013) series, which was the first Indian superhero franchise suffered a similar fate as the target audience evolved faster than they could churn out the films. Anubhav Sinha’s Ra.One (2011) which was marketed with large-scale VFX and Shahrukh Khan to boot, sunk like a stone due to bad story-telling and a gigantic dollop of Bollywood masala. It was apparent that Directors were painfully unaware of what their audience wanted from an Indian Superhero.
The unassumingly named Bhavesh Joshi Superhero revolves around the lives of Bhavesh Joshi and his friend Sikandar aka Sikku, who are wannabe activists fueled only by the chaotic rebellion that characterizes today’s urban revolutionaries. They are hopeless romantics who have taken it upon themselves to rid the world of all that is wrong. What starts with an amateurish street vigilantism, soon turns into serious business for Bhavesh as he starts noticing the deeper, uglier side of the city where the common man was being sucked dry by corrupt politicians and a dysfunctional government. Sikku, however, realizes that their shenanigans would get him nowhere and that it was high time he focussed on his career. This difference in their ideologies drives a rift between them and they move apart.
While following up on a problem of severe water shortage in a ward in Malad, Bhavesh stumbles upon an elaborate operation that was being run by the corporator of that area who was siphoning off large amounts of water from water supply pipes and creating an artificial scarcity in the city. The siphoned off water was then collected into his fleet of tankers and sold back to the people at exorbitant prices. Being an activist through and through, Bhavesh tracks down their godown so that he could video-tape the operation and post it on social media for the world to see. But things don’t go as planned as they rarely do. Bhavesh is caught and murdered by the water mafia. While performing his estranged friend’s last rites, Sikandar realizes how important this mission was for him and decides that he would finish what Bhavesh had started.
If you have observed Vikramaditya Motwane’s repertoire of films, you may have noticed that there is a singular theme weaving them all together. Each one of his films takes the protagonists through a transformative journey that ends up with them becoming something they may have never hoped to become. Where Udaan (2010) shows a teenager’s story of liberation from an abusive father, Lootera (2013) portrays the transformation of a conman into a compassionate human being.
Bhavesh Joshi is the story of Sikku’s metamorphosis. Every ‘superhero’ story begins with a tragedy that compels the protagonist to cross a boundary into a world where justice stands above all the farcical rules that had failed him. Motwane takes time to establish this motive into the story but when it is done, nothing can feel exaggerated. Unlike stereotypical superhero films where an individual trains himself to become the perfect executioner, Sikku struggles to rise unto his mission. Despite the titular presumption that comes with ‘Bhavesh Joshi Superhero’, Sikku is no more a superhero than you or I. He is just a tenacious man who wants to keep his friend’s name alive, as shown in one of the scenes where a masked Sikku beats one of the water mafia to the ground and says – “Bolna Bhavesh Joshi aaya tha.” (Tell them that Bhavesh Joshi was here). Through this carefully crafted sequence, Bhavesh Joshi is suddenly elevated into an undying symbol for justice.
However, Motwane doesn’t need to create over-the-top technologically advanced mutant villains to gratify the existence of his ‘superhero’. His villains remains as grounded and realistic as his hero.
Bhavesh Joshi also takes inspiration from iconic characters like the Batman from Batman : Year One where Bruce Wayne is still an amateur vigilante getting to know the dark underbelly of Gotham and is constantly beaten up on his nocturnal runs. Sikku follows a similar journey where he takes a page from Wayne and develops his own theatricality and symbolism to strike fear into the eyes of criminals. However, Motwane doesn’t need to create over-the-top technologically advanced mutant villains to gratify the existence of his ‘superhero’. His villains remains as grounded and realistic as his hero. Water Mafia are a very real problem in large cities like Mumbai where millions of people fight over resources every single day. Rampant corruption eats through the justice system. They are the real villains.
Just like its characters, the film’s cinematography also goes through a transformation from the bright, campy tone of amateur vigilantism to the unforgiving grit of a crime drama. Siddhant Diwan uses a dark, contrasting color palette to create an atmosphere where the masked man’s glowing eyes stands silhouetted against a backdrop of fire and rain. By the time, we reach the end of the film, the masked man has grown to watch over the city. Yes, he has a long way to go but he now understands the pulse of its inhabitants. There are no clear victories but there is hope.
By the time, we reach the end of the film, the masked man has grown to watch over the city. Yes, he has a long way to go but he now understands the pulse of its inhabitants. There are no clear victories but there is hope.
Harshvardhan Kapoor’s lanky boy-next-door personality brings in a lot of authenticity to the character. Newcomer Priyanshu Painyuli aka the original Bhavesh Joshi is brilliant as the passionate activist. His monologue about the dire state of affairs in the country and the apathy of its youth is one of the best pieces that I have heard when it comes to nationalistic fervor. Their chemistry as the proponents of the ‘Insaaf ka Punch’ is fresh and endearing, and makes you think that one doesn’t need much to bring change.
Motwane’s Bhavesh Joshi has all the makings of a cult phenomenon. It has a deeply philosophical premise of societal change being the responsibility of the society itself rather than a chosen few. You have to get your hands dirty to clean your own house. It also has the enduring innocence that has the heart to stand against injustice. There is also that heroic quotient that makes us want to imitate our favourite superheroes. In a podcast with SNG Comedy, Motwane mentioned that he would be working with comic artists to work on a graphic novel based on the character which would be released soon. This can be a welcome step in order to reinforce the character in the collective subconscious. Having said that, we would also be interested to watch a web-series on Sikku’s rise as the masked vigilante. Maybe an anthology style of story-telling can be followed where we see characters from different parts of Mumbai fighting there own fights and evolving into many Bhavesh Joshis. Ideas like this usually need some breathing space before they can become entrenched into pop culture.
If you call yourself an ardent film-buff, I urge you to start paying attention to Motwane’s body of work. Bhavesh Joshi deserves to be watched in the theatres. If you are one who cringes at the plight of superhero films in India, here’s your chance to make it right. Make this film so viable that large production houses can’t help but take notice. It’s about time we created our own superheroes and Motwane has just showed us how.