Director: A Harsha
Cast: Shiva Rajkumar, Shruthi, Bhavana, Saurav Lokesh, Cheluvaraj
Eight years after Bhajarangi, which saw Shiva Rajkumar play Jeeva, who takes on an evil tantrik and to which audiences flocked, its 'spiritual sequel' Bhajarangi 2 opened in a very different pandemic world, where everyone is masked. Poignantly, Kannada star Puneeth Rajkumar, Shiva Rajkumar's youngest sibling, died following a cardiac arrest the same day of release. His last tweet was wishing the team the very best.
Bhajarangi 2 is a Shiva Rajkumar star vehicle, all right. And, the film is in sync with Kannada cinema's new-found love for all things big — huge sets, massive crowds, people without a mean bone with their body, and who wear pristine white, people with only mean bones and who wear dark-coloured clothes, women whose hair has been styled to an inch of its death, kohl that has been used by the bottleloads… you get the drift. It has all, except a steady storyline and that elusive thing called a soul that tempts you to invest in what is happening.
When one attempts to tell a story that cuts across time, and flits between the past and the present, and even a world where the two seem to co-exist, even if on the fringes, there is a desperate need for a clear vision, so that the audience is not confused. That's something Harsha should have focussed on, considering he has an ensemble cast of performers with talent and screen presence.
Shiva Rajkumar is lovely as the light-eyed Bhajarangi with hair that waves just so, the forest officer with a heart, who follows rules in letter and spirit. He's near god-like, even if he trusts too easily. He's also Aanji in the present, a middle-aged man with a fascination for speaking in English who comes to meet his long-lost sister, the foul-mouthed money-lender Alamelamma (a bewitching looking Shruthi), hoping she'll find him a bride. Predictably, he falls headlong in love, real fast, with the righteous Chinminiki, played by Bhavana. To the tune of Arjun Janya's absolutely lilting 'Nee Sigoovaregu'.
As per everyone around Chinminiki, she's past marriageable age, and everyone takes the chance to tell her she should have had two children by now, instead of walking around the bazaar. Not one person tells that to Aanji, not one, though he's way older.
The village/town where Shruthi lives follows customs, including animal sacrifice during an eclipse in front of a cave where an old hermit lives. When Aanji stops one such sacrifice, he sets in motion a chain of events that had been stopped decades ago due to a sage's intervention.
There's a drug angle too, and you want to chuckle when the people from within the forest, ruled with an iron fist by Araka (Cheluvaraj) produce a whole lot of a narcotic substance that's now the rage in pubs and bars, and inside cars, in exchange for bagsful of cash — remember the weeks-long drama in real life over a few grams not possessed? And then, Araka is specifically told by his advisor twice that they cannot ever leave the forest. So, what would they do with the cash? How does Araka drive a vehicle inside town? Do not ask such questions.
Alamelamma is all fire and brimstone, but suddenly turns into a victim. Araka seems to take a shine to her, and it looks like there's some previous history, because his advisor apologises to her, but then that thread hangs loose too.
When Aanji's sister and fiance are both taken captive, along with other women and men in the village, because more drugs need to be made in the forest, he goes to the same place where the animal sacrifice was stopped, and does something that takes you into an extended flashback.
Enter Sudheendra (Saurav Lokesh is a picture of beautiful calm and a smile to match), who knows the medicinal secrets the gods have passed down, and to whom leaves and roots literally speak to. He's been waiting for long for his devaru or god (Bhajarangi, who saved his pregnant mother and took her to safety in time for her to deliver Sudheendra), and seeing Aanji in front of the cave is just what he needs to restore the balance that has been upset.
The flashback involves forest people who are portrayed as crude and later as greedy — descendants of the lord of healing Dhanvantri. This portion suffers from a severe 'outsider as saviour' complex. Bhajarangi is betrayed and the now-chastised forest people take a decision that will change the ways of the land.
And then, before you know it, the movie is over. The past and the present meet, but by now you're utterly confused. It's been four days since I watched the movie, and I've recast it in my head — it might make great sense with some re-editing, and lesser flips between the then and the now. And please, next time, don't confuse grandness of vision for a sureshot hit at the box office. There's a big thing in between vision and box office — the making. And, it's awful when good actors, good sets, good music and good cinematography are not given the respect they deserve.