In an early scene in Vikramaditya Motwane's "Bhavesh Joshi - Superhero", Sikandar (Harshvardhan Kapoor) tells a woman in a club about his vigilante venture. "We are like the Indian Justice League," he tells her. "Like Spider-Man?" she asks. "No, we are DC, we are much cooler," he says.
Being cool is certainly one of the things Motwane is aiming for in this film, and the influence of the American comic book universe is unmistakable in the 155 minutes of its runtime. Siddharth Diwan's camera snakes through Mumbai's streets and alleys at night, giving the city a Gotham-like feel. But even if the treatment is Hollywood, our hero's motivations lie closer home.
Sikandar and his friend Bhavesh (Priyanshu Painyuli), are college students who discover a purpose after the India Against Corruption movement that took the country by storm in 2011. Frustrated by the state of the city they live in, and newly aware of the power of the internet, they start a vigilante video channel called Insaaf TV, where they use hidden cameras and paper bag masks to expose corrupt officials.
But the venture soon loses its sheen for Sikandar, who finds nothing will change in a system that is rotten through and through. He moves on, working in a corporate firm and preparing to move to the United States. But Bhavesh is firm in his beliefs, chasing a story about water being stolen from public pipelines. What he doesn't realise is this scam goes all the way to the top, to a powerful state minister called Rana (Nishikant Kamat).
Sikandar takes a while to co-opt Bhavesh’s mission, and director Motwane paints him as a reluctant superhero. At one point, we see him hobbling away after being beaten up by the people he was out to get, his mask askew and his identity nearly compromised.
But once he gets into his groove, we get some wonderful action sequences through the streets of Mumbai, especially one exhilarating sequence involving a bike and a local train. Motwane is obviously influenced by the Christopher Nolan style of superhero movies, using the film to show the inherent decay in society. But while "Bhavesh Joshi - Superhero" starts off well, it stutters and gets too heavy-handed towards the middle. The plot trudges on, and Harshvardhan Kapoor does not have the acting ability to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. Also, the story of water and corruption doesn't feel deserving of the film's sweeping canvas, at least the one it aims for.
There is much to like here - the atmospherics, Painyuli’s performance that is notches above Kapoor’s, and Motwane’s feel for noir, but his home-grown hero still falls short. Hopefully this will be a franchise, and like most superheroes, Bhavesh Joshi too will have a chance at redemption and a better future.
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