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A muddled zone where animals fare but humans disappoint

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Film Review                                                                  Junglee

By SUNITA VIJAY

Even before the release of the film, several factors worked in favour of Junglee and evoked huge curiosity to view this film – its trailer, its global crew, and a newspaper comic strip by the same name prominently featuring in the dailies. The expectation to see real elephants on screen as characters, against the practice of digitally created ones, was another reason to look forward for the movie. Vidyut Jammwal, considered to be among India’s finest martial artistes, the man in action in Junglee, has been praised hugely by The Mask fame director Chuck Russell, who’s also Junglee’s director. In the cover story of an English daily, he mentioned, “Only Vidyut could (have) done the action scenes in Junglee.” Agreed, Vidyut scores points for all the exemplary action in the film. But does a film run solely on one parameter to make it captivating? Russell’s directorial debut in Bollywood was expected to bring a unique novelty in terms of style, direction, and execution but unfortunately, Junglee will not add any feather to his cap. The noble intention of the story to love and protect the animals is admirable, but the crew fails to translate it into an authentic viewing. It ends up being a film for infants, with animals outshining humans in performance.
Junglee begins and ends with an animal-loving objective focussing on the poaching of elephants for ivory trade by ruthless international players with the support of domestic hunters. Dr. Raj Nair (Vidyut Jammwal), a vet, returns to his village after ten years. He had left home due to some differences with his father who runs an elephant sanctuary in the jungle. He meets his childhood friend, Bhola, the star elephant, with about six feet long incurved tusks and other elephants. These are the beloved friends he grew up with. How can he see them dying in the hands of greed! This is the story of Junglee, but all narrated in a muddled way.
Animal-human bond is an adorable watch, especially with elephants, that possess charming innocent eyes, impressive demeanour in terms of size and an emotional connect. Some jungle scenes are awing, whether those involving Vidyut running with the herd while Bhola leads and flaunts his magnificent tusks or one where Vidyut is standing tall on the elephant back, bare-chested or leisurely sitting on the curved tusks of Bhola – all such frames are terrific. Still, the bond they share never cuddles the rightful emotions.
Vidyut is powerfully persuasive in action scenes and makes them believable effortlessly. The action scenes are choreographed by Chung Chi Li, who has worked with Jackie Chan in Rush Hour, Shanghai Noon and The Tuxedo. Raj, with no trouble, fights with anything in his defence, reminding us of Jackie Chan’s style. Vidyut knows how to use the ropes, still few shots look clumsy at places as if the props were laid down for him to pick and use. His agility, muscles, chiselled body – all work in his favour. He could cleverly jump through a small opening in the wall, fight three armed men while tied to a table with a chain. He convincingly makes the most difficult of shots plausible with his kicks, jumps, punches, run and chase. Despite all this, Junglee fails to click.
Vidyut has a strong voice and impressive frame but that is not all that the audience looks for. Nowhere his acting prowess impresses. Two female characters ineffectively join the jungle story. Shankara, a female mahout played by Pooja Sawant, with her looks and attire a complete misfit for her role. Another debutante, Asha Bhat, as journalist and animal rights’ activist finds herself struggling in the out-of-the-place character.
The film funnily introduces Raj’s love for animals in the very first scene. His formidable physique and fitness justifies his intentions to teach animal-oppressors a lesson with fist and fight both. He is shown communicating with the animals. His credentials to fight the poachers are defined by his proficiency in Kalaripayattu art form that he learnt from his guru in his village, a role performed by Theatre thespian Makarand Deshpande. The problem is that the potpourri of many things does not let the story build in presentable form. All the broad strokes sweep the minor requisites of a movie, failing to evoke the audience’s sentiments. It is pitiable to see Atul Kulkarni, as poacher, in a confused character mentioning that he respects animals, hunts them not for money but for the thrill. Another talent Akshay Oberoi is wasted in the role of a forester.
The animals in Junglee remain the real heroes while the humans look expressionless and bland. Elephants are captured beautifully in the picturesque forests, in groups, alone, while bathing in the river, in playful mood and even in times of great distress. Their screen presence is powerful. They win hearts as being majestically giant and gentle. It is disheartening to see their vulnerability. How the unquenchable greed of humans can savage attack to their existence.
Junglee is no more than a cartoon film with real actors and elephants. Colourless jokes, deadpan humour, unconvincing dialogues, emotionless treatment to the topic makes it banal. Russell fails to tell a story that could have stirred emotions.
I go with two stars…

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