Cast: Vidyut Jammwal, Pooja Sawant
Director: Chuck Russell
Elephants have been such delightful protagonists in previous Hindi films that one would be forgiven for expecting Junglee, headlining action hero Vidyut Jammwal to showcase more pachyderm playfulness. Alas, this one takes the dull and dreary route to belabour the point about the peaceful co-existence of man and beast.
What promised to be a reprised, updated version of that old blockbuster Haathi Mera Saathi turns out to be a film that misses the woods for the trees.
Junglee does start with some impressive visuals of elephants running free in lush green forests (actually a sanctuary in Thailand) that also houses, Chandrika, a forest conservation centre of sorts. Chandrika is run by an elderly widower referred to as Baba who has dedicated his life to preserving wildlife along with his dedicated staff. His young son Raj Nair (Vidyut Jammwal), a veterinary, lives in the city and sure knows his animals -- be it macaws, snakes and of course, elephants. The father and son have a few unresolved issues--which is the reason for Raj staying in the city, far removed from the jungle where he grew up. In sharp contrast to the animal-loving brigade are the avaricious poachers baying for the blood of Bhola, the leader of the elephant herd.
Unfortunately, while the film's story (by Ritesh Shah) is about Raj versus poachers hunting magnificent tuskers for their mercenary gains (ivory), it takes a lifetime to get to the point. This was a story that could have been a contemporary, entertaining and even informative. Instead what we have is a laboured narrative, which does little justice to the premise it sets up - the fact that animal poaching in Indian forests is a grim reality.
It would be interesting to note that the aforementioned Haathi Mera Saathi- a remake of a South-Indian film- was adapted by screenwriters Salim (Khan)-Javed (Akhtar) for the Hindi audience. The rest they say is history. But alas, in comparison, Adam Prince and Chuck Russell’s screenplay for Junglee is severely underwritten and falls between the two stools—resulting in a film that is neither Hollywood nor Bollywood style.
Actor Vidyut Jammwal, the rare exception who can match Tiger Shroff on the action front is flawless as far as the action in Junglee is concerned. Unfortunately, this film devotes an endless amount of time establishing the hero as a child of the forest with multiple close-ups and action shots--Jammwal’s forte. By the time the story starts moving we are already bored by all the muscle-mania and the Tarzan-like moments. Atul Kulkarni, one of the finest actors of our times is completely wasted in this film, as is Akshay Oberoi. The confident newcomers Asha Bhat and Pooja Sawant make the best of their sidekick roles but sadly the script offers them very little.
As a director, Russell who has impressive Hollywood films like The Mask on his resume falls incredibly short in making Junglee a good watch. Ang Lee (Life of Pi), Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), Richard Attenborough (Gandhi) are among the rare western directors who succeeded in the formidable task of retelling of India stories for both the world and Indian audiences--Russell, unfortunately, misses the mark.
Of the two films dedicated to pachyderms this weekend, Tim Burton’s film Dumbo (this one about circus elephants and their young friends) aimed at children is likely to win more hearts than Junglee.
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