There is almost zero subtlety in Lakadbaggha. The title is literal, as it is indeed about a hyena saving the day. For the uninitiated, Lakadbaggha is the Hindi word for the animal. The one we see in the movie looks quite artificial, though, thanks to shoddy VFX. In fact, the effect of budget constraints is visible throughout the movie. It doesn’t exactly look that polished; in fact, a lot of frames appear to be downright amateurish. I am not on a mission to massacre Victor Mukherjee’s movie with harsh words. In fact, it is just the opposite. I am getting the criticism out of the way first, because I have all the praise in the world for Lakadbaggha, which, despite all the issues, was an incredibly satisfactory watch for me.
If you follow the “cats and dogs adoption” groups of Kolkata on Facebook, you will come across people looking for help in saving stray animals from cruelty inflicted by mankind. I am not going to mince words here; not only does it make my blood boil, but every time I see those posts, I feel this incessant urge to crush the skulls of all these scum who hurt poor animals. In that sense, Lakadbaggha is like a wish-fulfillment fantasy. Only a while ago, we had a fantastically made blockbuster film in the form of Guardians Of The Galaxy: Volume 3, which centered on the topic of animal cruelty. Compared to that, Lakadbaggha is a much different movie, both in terms of context and approach, but the core theme of it is essentially the same.
It is not a movie for the faint-hearted. There is an abundance of blood and gore, and most of it looks very much explicit. As I have said before, there is nothing aesthetic here. You get to see a man retching after voraciously gorging on a Chinese dish after realizing it probably has dog meat in it. The villain castrates the hero’s pet dog and throws the part of the animal to his feet in order to taunt him. But watching it all unfold is a very delicious experience. That is ironic, given the fact that the much-controversial aspect of “dog meat being sold as mutton” in Kolkata features prominently in Lakadbaggha. However, I stand by the adjective, as that is the most accurate word to describe this movie.
Lakadbaggha makes it very clear early on that its plot hardly matters. I mean, the joke is on you if you try to find any logic in it. The protagonist is called Arjun Bakshi, a name that is bound to tickle the nostalgic bones of both the Samaresh Majumdar and the Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay fandoms. Sorry about abruptly bringing up a reference that would cater to Bengalis only, but pardon me here, as this is a film set in Kolkata, and you can always Google. Anshuman Jha, one of most non-threatening-looking actors you could ever come across, plays the part. That is an obviously intentional, against-the-grain casting, as the lower-tier, one-dimensional baddies of the movie don’t count him as a worthy opposition and pay the price. Of course, they have no idea that Arjun’s late father, Tarun, was a martial arts legend, portrayed by a “forever at the peak of fitness” Milind Soman (in an effective cameo).
Lakadbaggha hides Arjun behind a mask, but it does not keep anything away from you. In a riveting opening sequence, Arjun is introduced simultaneously as a mild-mannered young man and a bone-crunching vigilante, saving stray puppies from random goons. Arjun rescues dogs, teaches martial arts to kids, whistles “Purano Sei Diner Kotha” to call stray puppies to feed them, and always keeps his headphones on because he doesn’t like talking to people. He also works as a courier boy, and his boss, Dutta Kaka, played by Kharaj Mukherjee, is his only well-wisher cum human connection. It was nice to see Mukherjee, a fine Bengali character actor who has been mostly reduced to playing loud comic relief characters in Bengali movies, getting a chance to play something natural and real. Mukherjee puts an adequate amount of warmth and charm into playing Dutta Kaka, who would seem like any regular middle-aged Bengali uncle. Like any vigilante story, this one also has a lawful pivot- in the form of Special branch detective Akshara, played by Riddhi Dogra, whom you have seen in Asur. Akshara is, of course, looking into the vigilante, who is being called “Hoodyman” here. A surprisingly situational romance happens between Akshara and Arjun, which the actors sell with utmost earnestness.
But Akshara’s brother Aryan, aka the big bad guy, is the real deal here. Actor Paresh Pahuja hits it out of the park in the role of a turtle-neck-wearing, Hannibal Lector-emulating, caricaturish villain. From speaking in a strangely suave accent to intentionally showing off his rare butterfly collection to Arjun to getting his henchman cum girlfriend to lick his blood while shaving, Pahuja plays the part in an audaciously attractive fashion. Even though you can clearly see what garbage of a human being this guy is, you also get a weird high off him.
What I thought was particularly impressive about Lakadbaggha is how effortlessly it blends the vigilante superhero and martial art genres and builds the story around Kolkata with a dash of fantasy. With hyper-stylized action choreography and hand-held camera movements, Victor Mukherjee creates a unique world and presents the city of Kolkata as a character rather than showing it as a prop. Speaking of which, both the usual Bollywood and the Bengali industry have their certain style of showing the city of joy. I personally find it extremely bland, especially how they have used the same old wide angle or drone shot of Howrah Bridge to the death and still keep doing it. This movie delves deep into the alleys and lesser-known streets of the city and gives us a very exciting, almost South Korean looking Kolkata. Being a resident who is familiar with eighty percent of the locations, I found it fascinating. Another thing that I have noticed is how the movie stands against the notion that smaller indie movies need to follow a certain art-house style. Lakadbaggha has a rather pulpy tone, and it should qualify as an “entertainer” before anything, perhaps even more than your routine Bollywood blockbusters. That is, of course, the positive effect of the emergence of the OTT space, where a lot of directors are getting the opportunity of telling stories of different kinds without sticking to a preset structure.
Lakadbaggha also shows how to make message-oriented cinema without being preachy, unlike most of the latest “slice of life” Bollywood movies, which would rather shove the message to your throat. It can also be used as a crash course about how to make good content with a limited budget for the current Bengali film industry, which reeks of mediocrity. The fact that an idea like Lakadbaggha did not come from the esteemed brains of Srijit Mukherji or Shibaprasad-Nandita is good enough to justify my point. Lastly, I should probably track down Victor Mukherjee and personally thank him for making this massively uplifting, genuinely entertaining movie. Obviously, it is a no-brainer that this madness can’t end here, which Lakadbaggha confirms by letting us know about plans to take the story ahead. I really hope that actually happens.