Amar Kaushik’s Bhediya takes 75 minutes to convey the following: a mercenary contractor, Bhaskar (Varun Dhawan), travels to an Arunachal Pradesh hamlet to build a road amid the forest, gets bitten by a wolf, and turns into a werewolf. The supporting plot points try to justify a new Bollywood formula: ‘comedy horror’. The subgenre has existed for quite some time, but it derived sizeable momentum from Kaushik’s excellent debut, Stree (2018). The same production house, Maddock Films, backed Roohi (2021) – an unfunny film horrific for the wrong reason. Reuniting Kaushik and Maddock, Bhediya resembles more Bhaskar than Stree. A movie rustling with profit-making motive, obsessing not over storytelling mechanics but box-office riches.
Let’s first discuss the most basic element: characters. Or, more accurately, ‘loglines’. Bhaskar, greedy and callous; his sidekick, Janna (Abhishek Banerjee), a buffoon; their local collaborator, Jomin (Paalin Kabak), a punching bag for ‘northeast jokes’. An obviously suspicious officer, Panda (Deepak Dobriyal); a sanctimonious veterinarian, Anika (Kriti Sanon); and simplistic villagers: either pro- or anti-‘development’. Each character follows the same playbook. If a person exhibits a certain quality, then almost every scene reinforces it. In fact, those traits fuel the comedic fire, too.
Kaushik’s filmmaking lacks two essential features: motivation and economy. Bloated scenes, poor transitions, and an unfocussed story define this film. It doesn’t seem like a finished piece but a brainstorming session – a moviemaking equivalent of a sticky sentence. The intense narrative padding strains to hide something simple: Bhediya doesn’t have much to say. Its central tension – between capitalist development and indigenous rights – funnels through a banal filter. Clueless about the ‘progressive’ theme, Kaushik makes his characters spout self-evident lines, such as the wolf, not Bhaskar, is the real hero, and the outsiders must listen to locals while charting development plans. Very #CaptainObvious but still not a big deal.
Because the main problem is something else: Bhediya is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, tricking the audience under the garb of ‘comedy’. Since it’s set in Arunachal Pradesh, screenwriter Niren Bhatt milks the ‘northeast’ jokes till the last drop. Janna calls the village “danger jagah”, “tilismi jagah”. He flings a litany of slurs at Jomin, including “Chow mein”. We’re supposed to laugh. I watched the movie’s press show in a Connaught Place multiplex, where the audiences tittered at many such lines. And then, Bhediya whips out its trump card. It gives one scene to Jomin who berates Janna, who says sorry and, hey!, the movie is progressive again.
Or is it? Because right after that, Bhediya cuts to a local shaman facing the trio. He shakes and jumps and talks gibberish. (Jomin translates. The man is saying “shut up”.) We’re back in the vintage territory: These people are ‘different’, and these differences should make us laugh. What do I mean by different? In an early scene, referring to the locals’ reluctance to accept the development project, Jomin says, “Conservation ke naam pe jungli ki tarah rahega [they’ll live like animals under the garb of conservation].”
The comedy shows intermittent promise. It’s the kind of language you crave from a film like this: innocent, cute, silly. Jomin and Janna, for instance, first try to howl to communicate with Bhaskar’s werewolf. They fail, then play Himesh Reshammiya’s Tera Suroor. (The wolf approves.) Whenever Bhaskar scurries to his bungalow after his night-long animalistic spree, just wearing a pair of boxers, a song plays in the background: ‘Chaddi pehen ke phool khila hai’. A small stretch set to the score of a remixed ‘Ayega aane waala’, punctuated by local rap, infuses pleasant momentum.
But its central humour hinges on either slapstick or scatological. The latter overwhelms the movie so much that Bhatt relies on synonyms, moving from “pichwada” to “nitamb” to “latrine” to “mal”. Several, if not many, scenes look contrived to accommodate potty humour. A longish bit pivots on Bhaskar’s ‘stool test’, culminating in Janna collecting the sample by cutting a sewage pipe (while his friend is talking to his boss on the phone who is busy – doing what else but shitting).
Now, the horror. I am, in the crass lexicon of Indian engineering folks, a “phattu” audience – the smallest of things scare me. Bhediya didn’t make me flinch – not even once. It’s not surprising in hindsight because genuine horror springs from surprise. A movie can have that quality only if it cares for discovery. Kaushik’s film is insular and smug. It’s so bereft of meaningful ideas that it leans on a bizarre climactic twist, which also doubles up as bland truism. What does it say in essence? Respect nature. Thank you. What else, 2+2 is 4? Or maybe 2 + 2 is not 5? The end credits cut to a scene featuring Stree’s protagonists – Rajkummar Rao and Aparshakti Khurana – showing the makers’ true ‘McDonaldification’ intent. Bhediya won: It finally managed to scare me.