JUNGLEE (2019)

  • Release Date: 29/03/2019
  • Cast: Vidyut Jammwal, Atul Kulkarni, Pooja Sawant, Asha Bhat, Akshay Oberoi
  • Director: Chuck Russell

I was really hopeful about Junglee. Not only is Vidyut Jammwal one of my favorite action heroes of Bollywood, I felt that his martial arts skills and stoic look would be the perfect ingredients for a man playing a protector of animals. I thought that this could be a film in the same line as Ong Bak but the moment I saw the trailers, I knew that I was in for a washout. I wouldn’t have wasted a sizeable amount on catching this movie in a theater had it not been for the sparkling good company that I had but even my companion started to feel the crap hitting her face after the initial euphoria about the man-elephant camaraderie settled down.

Raj (Jammwal) is a veterinary doctor settled in Bombay who has daddy issues for no reasons and which gets settled over a cup of lotus tea and a revelation that should have been made years ago. He returns to his native village and his father’s Elephant sanctuary on the day of his posthumous mother’s yearly Puja to find the sanctuary in a dilapidating state. He meets his long lost friend Shankara (Pooja Sawant) a female Elephant mahout (elephant rider/controller) and is also tagged by the exceptionally annoying reporter Meera (Asha Bhat) who is in the sanctuary to interview Raj’s father. Raj also meets Bhola, his childhood companion elephant who has grown up to be a gigantic tusker and is being targeted by a group of poachers led by Keshav (Atul Kulkarni).

Soon the poachers kill Bhola, chop off his tusks and also kill Raj’s conservationist father in the process who was trying to thwart their rollicking business plan. Raj, with the blessings of a CGI Lord Ganesha, sets out to avenge his father, the elephant and also save the elephant’s tusks from being sold. Helping him in his endeavor are the two brutally annoying ladies and a clichéd friend who is in love with Shankara. Shankara in turns is in love with Raj. The friend switches sides faster than a teenage girl switches dress for selfies. If that was not enough, we have a corrupt cop whose every word and action reeks of corruption, a drunk Kalaripayattu shifu played by Chandrakant Muley from Satya (1998) who competes with the two leading ladies for being the most annoying character in the film and an abismally happy-go-lucky chikna Vidyut Jammwal who seems to be in a chirpy mood even after few hours of his father’s and best friend’s demise. The problem is you can’t find your way out of this mess and feel like you are being choked to death.

There were a few things about Junglee that just baffled me. I will start by addressing the elephant in the room. The action. Vidyut Jammwal burst onto the Bollywood scene with Force where he brought such physicality and brutality to his action that it was strikingly different. He measured up to a monstrous John Abraham and he was so unabashed that it was hard not to revere his moves. In Commando he brought a different facet of his action to the fore showcasing some amazing maneuvers and martial art moves that were well choreographed and looked elegant. Even in Commando 2, there was the initial action bit and then the showdown with Thakur Anoop Singh in the climax to look forward to.

In Junglee he literally sleep-walks through his action set pieces doing nothing. I cannot remember a single action sequence from the film that made any impact whatsoever on me. The fact that the director made a caricature of the seriousness of the plot and the lack of any formidable villain only made the matter that much worse. Jammwal has to fight Atul Kulkarni in the climax for the top prize. Chuckle! Chuckle! Need I say anything more?

The film’s plot can be basically summarized in one line. The writers didn’t even try to write an interesting story with relatable characters. Every character is so generic, clichéd and boring that you feel nothing for them. The story needed a proper villain to make any impact whatsoever but what we get is a confused Atul Kulkarni who hams and hams and hams a little more. His band of poachers is even worse. The two female leads are either overacting or annoying the bejesus out of us. Had they had the kind of screen presence to hold on to your attention, it would have been a different story but that is hardly the case.

Vidyut Jammwal with Director Chuck Russell

Vidyut Jammwal should have been the strength of the film but shockingly he is the second weakest link of the film after the director. The constant fake smile and over-charged dramatic expressions never augur well for him. He is the kind of man who should be rugged and grizzled and play to his strength of being an uncompromising and brooding character. His chirpy overtones with the elephants and the girls felt fake and were actually repulsive at many junctures. He just couldn’t make the character his own and that is only partially his fault.

Chuck Russell has directed highly entertaining films like The Mask and The Scorpion King. In both the films, he built up the films around the strength of its protagonists Jim Carrey and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. It would have served him better had he understood Vidyut Jammwal’s strengths and played to it. His films were always entertaining but Junglee is just so boring that I found it difficult to sit through it. How could he not see that coming? The Scorpion King had a terrific baddie in Memnon (Steven Brand). Why could he not do something similar here? Why couldn’t we have an antagonist who would stretch Vidyut to his limits? Why was there so little action? Why was the action so dull? There are numerous such questions that will remain unanswered.

After watching this film, I just hope, Chuck Russell, Vidyut Jammwal and the team of Junglee have the courage to ask forgiveness of the viewers for wasting their time and precious money. If Aamir Khan could do it after the Thugs of Hindostan debacle, I believe they can too. Junglee is easily one of the weakest films of the year so far.

Rating: 1/5 (1 out of 5 Stars)        

 

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