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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Junglee, Review: Don’t hunt the elephant

Junglee, Review: Don’t hunt the elephant

Every 15 minutes, one elephant is filled for its tusk. In Junglee, a prize pachyderm who inhabits a sanctuary, with tusks so long that they intersect at the edges, is targetted, by an international gang of hunter-smugglers, who hope to make a fortune by selling its ivory to a Singaporean-Chinese buyer. But when they attack the unsuspecting sanctuary-owner, they are taken on by his veterinarian son, who, when off duty, is Rambo+Bruce Lee incarnate. Lots of elephants, loads of action and 115 minutes later, there is retribution, but only after the prize catch is killed and a few humans are bumped off along the way. If these six-and-a-half lines interest you, Junglee is your kind of film.

Using drones, an Indian hunter, Keshav, is tracking the elephants in Dipankar Nair’sanctuary, looking for targets with big tusks. A lady mahout, Shankara, the only woman in the profession, spots the drone and downs it with a single sling shot. Never mind. The hunters have back-ups. Meanwhile Dipankar is hoping that his son Raj will come down from Mumbai to attend the rituals marking the tenth anniversary of his mother’s death. After his mother’s death, in unexplained circumstances, Raj has become alienated and practices as a veterinarian. He maintains little or no contact with his father and, instead, spends his time counselling macaw parrot owners and training hard at a gym. Sentiments get the better of him, and he travels to Kerala for the Pooja.

Following Raj is a journalist called Meera Rai, who is on the same plane, as in same ‘aeroplane’. She wants to do a story on the sanctuary and wants to interview Raj as a well as Nair. Along the way, it is vaguely suggested that she develops a crush on Raj, who is already the secret childhood sweet-heart of Shankara. At the sanctuary, he meets the father and son duo of Gaja Guru and Dev, among whom he had spent his childhood. Dev, his pal, is now a Forest Ranger, while Gaja has become an alcoholic.

Meanwhile, Keshav and his team are ready for the kill, and descend upon the forest, armed with special weaponry. They kill the magnificent tusker Bhola and saw off his tusks. Bhola’s mate, Didi, is a witness, as is Dipankar, who is eliminated. Shankara and Raj reach the scene and a red alert is declared. Every vehicle is searched at the police check-post outside the sanctuary. Then comes a phone call that the tusks have been found by the police and the barricades should be lifted. In reality, the tusks have been hidden, to be retrieved later. Surely some powers that be are in on this operation, and Raj will hunt them down, with a little help from Gaja and Didi.

It took eight writers to put together Junglee: Story by Rohan Sippy, Charudutt Acharya, Umesh Padalkar and Ritesh Shah, Akshat Ghildiyal, Suman Adhikary (dialogue); Screenplay by Adam Prince and Raghav Dar. Of them, Rohan is the film-maker/writer son of veteran director Ramesh Sippy and co-wrote, Nautanki Sala, which he also directed. Haathi Mere Saathi (1971), written by Salim-Javed, was the obvious inspiration, and Rohan was also to direct Junglee. Adam Prince has co-written films like Final Girl (about a woman who is trained a ‘complete weapon’ and Red Sky (about a fighter pilot out to neutralise weapons of mass destruction. Charudatt Acharya is a direction graduate from the Film and Television Institute of India and has co-written films like Vaastu Shatra and Dum Maro Dum, the latter was directed by Rohan Sippy. Umesh Padalkar wrote Bakra (2003) and some Marathi films. He has also worked in television. Ritesh Shah (Kahaani, Pink, Raid, Airlift) is the real old-hand in the team, having won awards for his dialogue-writing skills. According to reliable reports, Junglee is mainly his baby. This is the second collaboration with Junglee Pictures for Akshat Ghildiyal, who wrote the screenplay and dialogue for their 2018 hit, Badhai Ho. To the best of my knowledge, Junglee must be the debut feature film for Suman Adhikary. Raghav Dar worked on the films My Friend Pinto, Lamhaa: The Untold Story of Kashmir.

You almost expect a film to  traverse differing paths along the chronicle when the narrative is the collective product of so many pen-pushers. Nothing like that is on display here. Rather, Junglee has a thin, predictable story-line, with pretentious dialogue, designed to generate sympathy for the cause of elephant preservation and showcase the mesmerising action prowess of its lead actor. An attempt is made to philosophise the villain, by making him spout references to the Mahabharat, and in one scene, Lord Ganesh’s statue takes human shape, to prod a fallen protagonist back into payback mode, but neither ploy cuts any ice. Looking thirty-five, the hero is told by his father that he would not have understood the reasons behind his mother’s death as he was too young at that time. Too young? At twenty-five? And what a flimsy reason it turns out to be.

Romantic tracks are avoided, and all the better for it. Otherwise, we would have had triangles running on parallel tracks: vet and journalist, vet and mahout, mahout and Forest Ranger…In true patriotic spirit, the executor of the misdeeds is an Indian while the head honchos are all foreigners. All the characters are stock-in-trade: the dulcet macho vet, the two-faced Forest Officer pal, the Kalaripayattu guru who is now a drunkard, the lady mahout with a secret crush, the benevolent reserve owner who does pretty little else, the glib-talking hunter, his immediate boss, the Chinese buyer and his opportunist girl-friend, the presumptuous journalist who wears spectacles and shorts…A cardinal sin, the climax is predictable. Only the Kalaripayattu (a martial art from Kerala) back-story is a piece of clever writing proffered.

Unless the action scenes are the result of active collaboration between him and the action team of Wut Kulawat and Parvez Shaikh, and he has a way with animals, there was little justification in engaging the services of a Hollywood director like Chuck Russel (A Nightmare on Elm Street, 3: Dream Warriors, The Mask, I am Wrath). Nothing is known about Wut Kulawat, but Parvez Shaikh is a top gun in the action scenario, with films like Tiger Zinda Hai, Vishwaroopam and Kesari under his (black?) belt. If you do venture forth and visit a theatre where it is being shown, just try and keep track of the quicksilver stunts enacted by Vidyut Jammwal. He is given an assortment of fighting tools, including chairs and tables, all of which he deploys to deadly effect. Ironically, The Mask star Jim Carrey is known as an over-the-top contortionist, while Jammwal and company are saddled with uni-polar face batteries.

Vidyut Jammwal (Force, Commando, Bullett Raja, Badshaho) is passable as a lead actor but almost unsurpassable as the fighting machine. With a pleasant face and wow physique, he is bound to go places. Already quite a star in Tamil and Telugu films, the model-turned-actor has several Hindi films lined-up too. Pooja Sawant, as Shankara, plays a coy mahout, while Asha Bhat as the journalist Meera Rai is too bubbly and extroverted. Makarand Deshpande starts on the wrong foot but redeems himself in the end. Atul Kulkarni is slick and suave as the hunter who believes hunting is a mind game, and exudes confidence. Akshay Oberoi routinely plays Dev, the Forest Ranger and gets to duel with Jammwal. Thalaivasai Vijay is suitable genial and emotional as Dipankar Nair, while Vishwanath Chatterjee is loud and sadistic as Inspector Khan.

Love for the wild, especially for a species as appealing as the gentle giants of the jungle, coupled with jet speed calisthenics and a dazzling display by a one-man army, can still not help the film rise above mediocrity. In the end, Junglee (meaning ‘of the jungle’), produced by a banner that was named Junglee Pictures many years before this film was conceived, may not escape the law of the jungle.

Rating: **


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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