Cast: Vidyut Jammwal, Atul Kulkarni, Pooja Sawant, Asha Bhat, Makarand Deshpande, Akshay Oberoi, Thalaivasal Vijay
Director: Chuck Russell
In Kerala, cute, adorable haathis, including one couple — the long-tusked Bhola and his sweet missus, Didi, who are expecting a baby —dwell in a lush green forest with a stream.
They are looked after by the very well-meaning folk who run an elephant sanctuary.
But nearby hover bad, bad Indian shikaris, working for the dollars of bad, bad gora people. And then there is Dr Raj Nayar (Vidyut Jammwal), a veterinarian who loves, respects and can have meaningful conversations with all residents of the forest. The cast of characters of Junglee pretty much suggests its fairytale plot.
Director Chuck Russell, who made Mask with Jim Carrey (1994) and Eraser (1996) with Arnold Schwarzenegger, seems to plot his moves when he spots a muse.
And Junglee, which has the purpose of an anti-poaching activist, seems to have come into existence, like Russell’s previous projects, the moment he set eyes on Vidyut.
Cast as the defender of haathis, the task requires that Vidyut have brief tête-a-têtes with a heard of haathis blocking a highway, that he take off his upper garment repeatedly, and perform stunts so cool and daring that few would have dared, and fewer still would have been able to pull them off convincingly.
Junglee keeps upping the number of adversaries Vidyut has to face, but to keep the fights fair, it gives them machine guns but they opt instead for an axe, a bamboo stick, a sword...
To thicken, or let’s say muddy the plot, a few needless diversions are added to the story.
A lady mahout, Shanku (Pooja Sawant) likes Raj, but a forest ranger Dev (Akshay Oberoi) craves her attention.
Dev is Raj’s chuddie-buddy and the son of his guru Gaja Guru (Makarand Deshpande) who taught them both Kalaripayattu, but is now a babbling drunk.
Raj has not visited the sanctuary run by his Baba (Thalaivasal Vijay) for 10 years because he still blames his mother’s death on his dad’s love for haathis.
There’s also a pesky journalist, Mira Rai (Asha Bhatt), who is supposed to provide some laughs but comes in handy. She fawns over Vidyut and saves him.
You see, to burnish the credentials of a leading man as a gorgeous hunk, one lady is never enough. Two is almost mandatory, one of whom must remain forever in love with him.
Meanwhile, a contract has been given and Krishna (Atul Kulkarni), who likes spouting shlokas from the Gita, has taken the assignment personally. He relishes shikar.
And now that it is dead mommy’s 10th barsi, how can Raj not visit the sanctuary.
The plot thins...
There is nothing in Junglee that suggests that a foreigner has made it except, perhaps, the fact that the film is beautifully mounted, and Russell’s uncontained love for Indian aesthetics seeps through in several scenes — rangoli, including on haathis, diyas, gajras, long strings of white flowers and yellow marigold, Ganesha, and the graceful, hypnotic movements of Kalaripayattu are captured lovingly.
The film’s screenplay is so desi that it requires the help of a monkey to steal a mobile phone and put the shikaris’ evil plan into action.
Junglee reeks with the joy of trashy Bollywood movies, upping the melodrama to a level that was shocking. But when the big tragedy does occur, Junglee finds some heft and purpose.
The film has warm, fuzzy moments thanks to the adorable elephants, my favourite being when Didi screams and we are told by the doctor that she’s in labour… Awwww.
Thalaivasal Vijay is very good and Atul Kulkarni looks like he was having a lot of fun playing villain.
Vidyut Jammwal holds together Junglee with his boyish charm and cool stunts, including one that had him jump out of a tiny window in a move so smooth that I clapped.
My only request is he finds, en route to his gym and martial arts class, an acting school and enrol. Then we can actually raise our eyes from that bare chest....