Junglee movie review: Vidyut Jammwal's action-adventure film is well-intentioned but lazily executed

Chuck Russell’s Hindi language action thriller, Junglee, has the right intention, but much is lost between intent and execution

Udita Jhunjhunwala March 29, 2019 10:30:48 IST

2/5

Raj Nair (Vidyut Jammwal) is a vet based in Mumbai who returns home to his father’s elephant sanctuary in Orissa after a decade. Thailand masquerades as the eastern state when we are introduced to the elephants – Didi, Bhola, Jamun and others. They are members of the extended Nair family and Raj is quick to re-establish a bond with his childhood friends – human and pachyderm.

Junglee movie review Vidyut Jammwals actionadventure film is wellintentioned but lazily executed

Vidyut Jammwal in a still from Junglee

Besides his father, he meets up with childhood friends Shankara (Pooja Sawant), a mahavati (mahout) and Dev (Akshay Oberoi), a forest ranger. Also hovering around is a zealous journalist (Asha Bhat) who is doing a story on the sanctuary.

Elsewhere, a businessman has commissioned a hunter to capture a tusker and bring back the prized and precious ivory. Atul Kulkarni channels Indiana Jones as he brings on the strut, dons a hunter’s hat and goes poaching.

Makarand Deshpande also shows up as a troubled guru who once trained Dev and Raj in Kalaripayattu. Deshpande may not have much to do, though he does get to wield a stick, but he has been given the best character name – Gaj Guru. In fact, Bhat’s journalist, Kulkarni’s hunter/poacher and Deshpande’s guru are all cartoon-ish characters, a mash-up of sketches from comic books and other fantasy adventures.

An emotional homecoming turns into a dangerous and violent revenge saga where the man-animal conflict and greed turn into a battle between good people versus very bad ones. The message is spelt out – stop buying ivory and stop supporting trade in ivory.

Through the bond Raj’s father, Raj, Shankara and others share with the elephants, Junglee does touch a nerve and your heart lurches as you see the poachers greedily and heartlessly attack these majestic creatures. Thereafter the story goes awry. Logic is thrown out of sight and the characters lazily slip into stereotypes. You could write out at least one female part, all the lame attempts at humour and some other supporting characters, and the story would lose nothing.

Raj often singlehandedly fights off groups of goons. Jammwal’s skills as an action star are not to be faulted (though the same cannot be said of his command of the acting craft) but for a martial arts-action film, the stunts and fight scenes are underwhelming. The screenplay also gets a bit mixed up. Right after one fight scene, director Chuck Russell (Mask, Scorpion King) conjures up a marzipan shaded, bling Ganpati apparition in the middle of a temple-cum-training ground in the forest. It’s a ‘what just happened?’ kind of moment.

I still feel warm and fuzzy when I think back to Haathi Mere Saathi, which is supposedly the initial inspiration for this film. But besides the gorgeous animals themselves, Junglee is not a patch on the 1971 film. Russell’s Hindi language action thriller has the right intention, but much is lost between intent and execution.

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