‘Bhakshak’ Review: The Movie Makes The Message Of The Film Almost Extraneous To The Plot

Bhakshak by writer-director Pulkit seems to have been reverse-engineered to quite a degree, which is why the result isn’t as engaging as it should have been. What is the issue here? It’s hard to pinpoint in a single viewing, but there is an instinct that points to the answer. The movie, written by Jyotsana Nath alongside Pulkit, has a significant idea at the center of it, but how best to show it becomes the issue. You have to have the right scenario and a carefully planned-out sequence of events that invites the audience into the world of Bhakshak. The film stars Bhumi Pednekar, someone who has quite boldly chosen films with something to say. She seems to be the one figure in the film that the audience can see and then can immediately be on board with the plot of the film. As far as having a relatable figure is concerned, Bhakshak plays its cards right. But once we are in the world, can we remain engaged throughout?

Set in Munawwarpur, Bihar, the film begins by arresting us in the drama of it all. A girl is burned on a pyre after she has been harrowingly abused by an older man. We find that another man, who seemingly comes to scold the guy, Sonu, is only worried about how the girl’s treatment will take up his time. So the only solution was to kill her. There is an almost Kashyap-esque feel to the scene, which might also be attributed to the fact that we see the very intense Satyakam Anand in the frame as Sonu, who was brilliant in Kashyap’s 2012 epic revenge drama Gangs of Wasseypur. But this is the only time the film actually feels dangerous. We, the vile human beings, are interested in the film after this scene that only entices us through the disgust it produces. A lot of questions arise, which is good considering the questions might make us stay through to the end to find out the answers. I didn’t feel that questioning anything was the motive of the film, and it wanted to be an answer, which is where the ‘reverse-engineering’ comes in, or so I feel. A lot had to be done, probably as an afterthought to make the film a ‘question’. Even if I put the ‘question-answer’ point of the story aside, there is a lot of meandering the story goes through. There is almost cliche banter between Vaishali and her husband, which extends to his family as well. Sai Tamhankar, Surya Sharma, Chittaranjan Tripathy, Durgesh Kumar, and Danish Iqbal, all quite good performers, get to do their bit in this meandering plot.

Beginning as a crime thriller, the film evolves (or devolves) into a social drama where Vaishali Singh, played by the restrained Bhumi Pednekar, gathers news about a local girl’s shelter whose owner might be involved in inhuman practices, with quite powerful people involved as accomplices. Supporting Vaishali in her endeavors is Sanjay Mishra in the role of Bhaskar Sinha. They run a small news channel from the comforts of Bhaskar’s home, and it has been three years and the channel hasn’t reached where she had thought it would. Now that she had gotten a lead on such important and groundbreaking information about the girl’s shelter, she didn’t want to let it go. The man in question is the well-known and society’s Mr. Dependable, the journalist Bansi Sahu (played by Aditya Srivastava). Bansi and his workers are shown to be manically laughing sex maniacs who talk casually about choking the ‘difficult’ girls to death, but there is this sense in them of maintaining their prestige in society. We are never shown how Bansi has managed to command such authority and respect even from the police, but we are asked to believe that he is troubled by Vaishali Singh, the reporter on a two-person operated small-time news channel. Why should he be troubled, though? There is just a nudge here and there to have some justifications, like Vaishali’s gender and Bansi’s higher ups getting all jittery about it, but they are not convincingly done. Vaishali Singh is there to stay, but can the other supporting characters suffer? Yes, but only to a degree. Things always remain manageable for Vaishali, and that is where the film starts to dwindle. The care for her pursuit of justice should have made the character go through hell before she got out of there, but there is a prominent chunk of the film that depicts the hell that a survivor of the abominable girl’s shelter went through. A woman named Sudha, played by Tanisha Mehta, becomes crucial in Vaishali’s pursuit of justice. But this hell is not connected to what we are tethered to, which is Vaishali’s character. The pieces of the film’s puzzle keep on increasing, and some start to seem purely extraneous.

The film wants gritty realism as well as the tone of a social drama where we are well aware that our protagonist will be safe no matter what. Aditya Srivastava and others laugh in animalistic fashion in almost all the scenes, and it soon grows tiring. Bhumi Pednekar is one actress who seems to be stuck in the same role, where she has to play a powerful woman, no matter what the circumstances of her character are. There is a domestic angle to the film that resolves itself without effort, which felt a little convenient.

Everything aside, Bhakshak‘s greatest mistake is to deliver the same message twice. Once through the interpersonal dynamics of the characters and another that is done totally extraneously. Newton, a film that was released a while ago, was also a scathing yet humorous socio-political drama that had all its messaging conserved within the universe of the film. Bhakshak has no such economy, and it leaks from its edges, unconvinced of its own story, which is why there has to be a fourth wall break to deliver the same message that it had more or less managed to give through Sudha and Vaishali’s exchange. I was reminded of the Shah Rukh Khan starrer Jawan and Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani. I am sure that wasn’t the intention here.

The performances try to sustain the realism, but given the writing of some scenes, they resort to caricaturish portrayals. Not Pednekar, though. She remains quite steadfast, and that is something she has got to get out of. Her words don’t flow well, and the accent and pronunciation are off in so many places. The one thing that can be said about her is that she is a careful performer—almost too careful now—and that is shackling her, it seems. In some of the bluish-yellowish scenes of the film, they show that Pulkit cared about the look of the film, but only in a few places. There is no thematic uniformity to the colors, and the writing had too many topics—political, domestic, social, and individualistic in nature—to be taken care of visually in the film, but as it often happens in such a case, most of them had to be dropped in trying to neatly wrap up the plot. Bhakshak could have been a significant film given its core idea, but once we zoom out and see the energy spent on the embellishments on the whole sphere around the core idea, we see the core idea could have been anything. It was all purely incidental, but the first scene had us thinking otherwise. The movie becomes too much about Vaishali and her struggles. So, why not start the movie with her then, eh?


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Ayush Awasthi
Ayush Awasthi
Ayush is a perpetual dreamer, constantly dreaming of perfect cinematic shots and hoping he can create one of his own someday.

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