Junglee: Too comic-book simple

March 29, 2019

Elephants always remember. They are gentle giants. They are affectionate creatures: this and other elephant lore comes at us, in bits and pieces, in Junglee, a latter-day jungle safari featuring bad guys, good guys, and a bunch of lovable tuskers. There’s not one ounce of complexity in the movie, unspooling in such a linear fashion that even two-year-olds would have no difficulty in understanding it. Maybe that’s the demographic the film will appeal to, with its bright colours and straight-forward story-line, and a smiling hero who can take on an army of scowling bad guys single-handedly. In the deep jungle, there is an elephant sanctuary. It’s meant to be in Odisha, but other than some characters wearing Ikat saris, and a few vaguely Oriya-sounding lines slung about, it looks like a cross between Kerala and Thailand. Who cares? Clearly, it takes a non-Indian director to blithely offer us an unapologetic mash-up of ‘kalaripapyttu’ ( an ancient form of martial arts which originated in the southern Indian state), which is what Raj, the most ripped vet on the planet ( Jammwal), practices. Said vet pats exotic long-tailed birds and pet dogs on their head, before heading out to the jungle, just in time to become the animals’ saviour. Jammwal is a dab hand at action, and those bits are watchable. He is fluid and graceful and believable as he kicks and chops his way in and out of trouble. Those are the money shots: who doesn’t love bad guys getting a taste of their own medicine? And the locations are quite stunning—green, and lush. But the rest of it is too comic-book simple. The villain is always on the phone to a canny hunter (Kulkarni) who claims he doesn’t hunt for money, but for the thrill of the kill. Kulkarni is kitted out in a sola topi, or something that looks a lot like it, and is surrounded by snarling henchmen with swords and guns. A female journalist wears shorts on an assignment in the jungle. Another eye-catching woman, a female mahavat, is doe-eyed and pretty, and wears beautifully fitted blouses. It’s all very Jungle Book, and the dangerous bits are kept carefully in check. It’s the kind of movie in which our hero grabs a venomous snake, and chats with it, and is chatted to, in turn, by a tubby elephant god, who appears in a talking part. .

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