Bhakshak is perfect blend of real and reel

Bhumi Pednekar delivers a bravura performance in Bhakshak. Photo: Trailer Video Grab 

It has authentic grit, amazing realism and is perfectly in tone: coming from the house of a huge star (Shah Rukh Khan) who is back in the reckoning with mass-friendly movies, Bhakshak is happily not unpalatable in the way it presents its sordid content, never going dark or depressing, keeping the deviant moments crisp and not repulsive, and yet making the on-screen presentation sufficiently—no, perfectly—repugnant to right-thinking audiences. It walsk the tightrope of real and reel with effortless expertise.

Most of the sequences are indeed chillingly horrifying (as announced, the film is inspired by real events) but the under-two-hour movie catches you squarely by the gut as it unravels the story of sexual atrocities in a Bihar orphanage. The film is loosely based on the case of the real-life Muzaffarpur Shelter Home, from where cases of sexual abuse were reported.

In a police investigation that would use medical experts and interviews with the victims, it was reported that 34 out of 42 of the girls living at the shelter had been subjected to horrific treatment. The prime accused, a former Bihar MLA, who was also in charge of many other such facilities, was convicted on multiple grounds of rape, gang-rape, criminal conspiracy and aggravated sexual assault under Section 6 of the POCSO Act, and offenses under the Juvenile Justice Act.

The translation onto film is dexterously crafted. Piece by piece, dogged television journalist, Vaishali Singh (Bhumi Pednekar), unravels the muck and awakens the sleeping conscience of the state and its leaders, besides a victim who has had a lucky escape—Sudha (Tanishaa Mehta) and also earns the support of her anxious but otherwise disapproving husband, Arvind (Surya Sharma).

The villains are the big name Bansi Sahu (Aditya Srivastava) and his coterie, which includes Mithilesh Sinha (Chittarnajan Tripathy), his all-purpose goon Sonu (Satyakam Anand), the heartless and inhuman Baby Rani (Gulista Alija) and the doctor and other heinous accomplices who do indescribable things to the hapless girls of the Munnawarpur (note the change in spelling) Shelter Home, so much so that when :necessary”, they get rid of their bodies after their sadistic ‘exploits’ with them are over with.

Vaishali and her middle-aged partner, Bhaskar (Sanjay Mishra), first get tipped off by an informer named Guptaji (Durgesh Kumar) and in their quest for the truth against seemingly insurmountable odds, have to go through many trials and tribulations. Even a steely new top cop named Jasmeet Kaur (Sai Tamhankar) has her limits in the setup as Bansi Sahu’s net is cast far and wide to include cops, bureaucrats and ministers.

On the flip-side, and in tune (!!) with many of our young crop of film writers and directors hell-bent on “realism” and hooked on not dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s, a significant casualty is audience gratification: Why do we not get to see the evil forces being punished (when in real life in this case, many got life imprisonment!)?

It has always been an axiom in Indian films that one can see a happy ending to what does not happen actually for many in real life issues: Amitabh Bachchan, for example, has built a career on such aspiration-based and inspirational films. But when such things have already happened in real life and one is building a film on them, why shirk from showing this necessary culmination? I am sure the film would not have been harmed by a few additional minutes!

This significant deficiency apart, Pulkit’s direction and his script (with Jyotsana Nath) is amazingly detailed, logical and graphic. After quite a while (maybe after Apoorva three months ago), one can ‘smell’ the surroundings and feel for the victims and get to hate the oppressors and cannot wait for them to be punished.

Bhumi Pednekar gets everything North Indian (accent, tone, looks, body language) perfectly right and to say that this is her finest performance after her debut film Dum Laga Ke Haisha (also set in small-town North) is as obvious as sunrise. We expect her now to stay clear of worthless assignments, especially with deviant filmmakers!

Sanjay Mishra may look odd as her right-hand but the veteran and versatile actor is outstanding in his underplayed role as Bhaskar. Aditya Srivastava is fantastic as Bansi Sahu. His smiles, smirks and enraged scowls are indeed remarkable, but he scores most with his vocal inflections. Durgesh Kumar as Guptaji and Pravin Kumar Sisodia as Brijmohan are excellent. Gulista Alija (the inexorable Baby Rani) and Tanishaa Mehta (the anguished yet selfish Sudha) are absolute great finds. The rest too do justice to their characters.

This is Red Chillies Entertainment’s finest product in this decade. Yes, I have not forgotten any other.

Netflix presents Red Chillies Entertainment’s Bhakshak  Produced by: Gauri Khan & Gaurav Verma  Directed by: Pulkit Written by: Pulkit & Jyotsana Nath  Music: Anurag Saikia & Anuj Garg  Starring: Bhumi Pednekar, Sanjay Mishra, Aditya Srivastava, Sai Tamhankar, Surya Sharma, Durgesh Kumar, Chittaranjan Tripathy, Tanishaa Mehta, Satyakam Anand, Vibha Chibbar, Pravin Kumar Sisodia, Samta Sudiksha, Gulista Alija, Shakti Sinha, Danish Iqbal, Pubali Sanyal, Farheen Khan, Aditya Uppal, Anurag, Anand Sharma, Ekram Khan, Ronak Pandey & others




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