Director: Chuck Russell
Cast: Vidyut Jammwal, Pooja Sawant, Atul Kulkarni, Asha Bhat, Akshay Oberoi
Junglee has poor poachers and greedy elephants. Or was it greedy poachers and poor elephants? But the vapid hero-returns-to-save-sanctuary tale is blind to the biggest elephant in the room: ‘Action star’ Vidyut Jammwal still trying to do the acting thing. As a reformed-Tarzan veterinarian, no less. His name is Raj, but the film seems to think he is a Doctor Nair. Vet by day and wet animal vigilante (his skin is always glistening) by night, Doctor Nair spends more time in the gym than his clinic. He saves a mutt and convinces a herd of grieving elephants to clear a highway in the first ten minutes of Junglee. Doctor Nair is clearly a beast whisperer. Beasts sense a kindred soul in his bulging muscles.
Doctor Nair visits his estranged father and the old man’s crumbling elephant sanctuary – complete with a dead mother backstory and a childhood friend who is now the country’s first female mahout (Pooja Sawant) dressed as Lara Croft. The father is bald so that he can appear younger by wearing a wig in the flashback sequences. On the way, a serious journalist (“my website has 20 lakh subscribers”) tags along to record his father’s story. How do we know she is a journalist? She is goofy, wears glasses and constantly films everything with a camcorder.
At one point, girl mahout and girl journalist vie for Doctor’s attention during their mission. Thanks to Jammwal’s perpetually wooden expressions, this feels like quite a treesome.
The villain of the film is a “principled” poacher (Atul Kulkarni) who respects elephants by looking them in the eye and combating them before cutting off their tusks at the very last moment. Which basically makes him the Dhoni of hunters. He leads a gang that consists of a mandatory Thai sidey, a white Russian (not the drink) and an Indian clown, working for rich Taiwanese clients who operate drones to hunt down alpha-male elephant Bhola, who also happens to be Doctor Nair’s childhood bestie.
Nair’s reunion with Bhola is a thing of cinematic oblivion – they run with each other in slow motion, and bathe with each other in the river while reminiscing about Nair’s heady teen-aged years where they might have whispered, “Call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine” amidst vines and wines. A tragedy at the end of the first half causes Doctor to become Rambo and thirst for revenge. Somewhere in this muddled mess, there is Akshay Oberoi, whose light eyes ensure that his character is never who we think he is. At one point, girl mahout and girl journalist vie for Doctor’s attention during their mission. Thanks to Jammwal’s perpetually wooden expressions, this feels like quite a treesome.
The jungle often looks like the kind of kitschy fire-lit soft-porn set in which you expect Tarzan and Jane to appear in leopard-print loin cloth and succumb to their own beastly desires. Jammwal moves well in the action sequences, but then again, so do the elephants and crocodiles. There is no visual proof of crocodiles in this film, but I assume they were doing one hell of a job underwater. Also, what is a jungle movie without crocodiles? Are monkeys, snakes and parrots better than crocodiles? This is no time for animal racism. Junglee should have known better.