One look at the trailer of Junglee, and you know what to expect from it. As promised, the Chuck Russell-directorial is an unabashedly over-the-top action adventure about a man saving a group of elephants, which are part of his Chandrika Elephant Sanctuary.
Vidyut’s Dr Raj Nair (is he a Nair because of the elephant-Kerala connection?) is a veterinarian doctor, martial arts expert, and elephant whisperer, all rolled into one. He pulls of unbelievable stunts, stands bare torso on top of the alpha elephant, executes more complicated stunts, has a running race with the friendly pack of pachyderms, squeezes himself through car doors to do more stunts, and... you get the gist.
It’s when he has to flex his acting muscles that Vidyut doesn’t quite land his punches. Thankfully, the heavy lifting in emotional scenes between Vidyut and his father (‘Thalaivasal’ Vijay) is taken care by the veteran South Indian actor, who, unfortunately, doesn’t even get top billing in the credits.
While on casting and performances, Atul Kulkarni plays to the gallery as the primary antagonist, Keshav, and Makarand Deshpande has too much fun hamming as the Kalari Payattu guru to Vidyut.
Given Junglee is a one-man-takes-on-the-world film, the women remain functional, at best, but credit to the writers for actually giving both heroines, Pooja Sawant and Asha Bhat, a job, and some sort of agency in the film.
Though you have the occasion message advising against use of ivory products, the makers are sure about their focus on Vidyut. While he does stand tall amidst some patchy writing, and even patchier staging, Junglee receives more than just a shot in the arm with the presence of the innumerable elephants.
The bond between Dr Raj and his elephants, Didi and Bhola, is beautifully established over two songs by Sameer Uddin. While I couldn’t quite remember the tune long after, it is completely impossible not to think of the baby elephants doing synchronised swimming, or playing football, or just being their cute, joyful selves.
In one outlandish scene, Vidyut is in a trance of sorts after being grievously wounded. He sees Lord Ganapati, brandishing a knife in one of his many arms, coaxing him out of his stupor by asking him to fight for the forests.
I would have liked to see more such over-the-top scenes in a film where, for example, an elephant feels bashful after being playfully teased by her friend for being pregnant with the alpha elephant’s child. Surely, this is not too much of an ask from the director who gave us the Jim Carrey-starrer The Mask.
While it is undoubtedly a decent watch, Junglee needed more madness, more unadulterated fun, and... obviously, more of those cute elephants, making themselves comfortable around a high-flying Vidyut.
Cast: Vidyut Jammwal, Thalaivasal Vijay, Atul Kulkarni, Pooja Sawant