Bhaiyya Ji Review: Manoj Bajpayee is the Bhojpuri John Wick

For his 100th film, the actor plays a single-screen hero and is defeated by the mediocrity of the storytelling
Bhaiyya Ji Review: Manoj Bajpayee is the Bhojpuri John Wick
Bhaiyya Ji Review: Manoj Bajpayee is the Bhojpuri John Wick

Director: Apoorv Singh Karki
Writer: Deepak Kingrani
Cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Suvinder Vicky, Zoya Hussain, Jatin Goswami, Vipin Sharma

Run time: 135 minutes

Available in: Theatres

I’ve been worried for myself lately. I haven’t been reacting to bad movies the way I used to. It’s mostly a mild mix of submission and sarcasm. A few sighs here, a few puns there – and I’m done. But watching Apoorv Singh Karki’s Bhaiyya Ji made me feel young again. All those passionate feelings came pouring back out. Rage. Sadness. Repulsion. Hate. Hopelessness. At times, I summoned all my willpower to not walk out of the screening. For this reunion with my former self, I’m grateful to Bhaiyya Ji. I could tell it’d happen the moment the villain is introduced as a vile rich kid who runs over dogs for fun. Or the moment his influential father is introduced in a scene where he slaughters a defiant girl who accused his son of sexual harrassment (“What’s the problem if he didn’t rape you?”). Or the moment father and son cackle after realizing that a body they pushed into a cremation chamber wasn’t dead yet. Or the moment a massive fire looks like an errant crayon explosion, or a CGI crow looks like a handsome bat.

The premise is simple. Think Bhojpuri John Wick, but replace the dog with the hero’s brother. A boy named Vedant is killed outside Delhi railway station during a spat with gun-toting bullies over parathas. The murder – committed by an unhinged politician’s unhinged son Abhimanyu (Jatin Goswami of course) – is covered up. Vedant’s older brother, Ram Charan (Manoj Bajpayee), is in wedding mode in Bihar when he hears of the tragedy. In the throes of grief, Ram Charan does his best to convince us that he’s a meek middle-class man. But once the last rites are done, the monster comes out of retirement. Ram’s own voice-over (while he’s posing with a shovel) helpfully tells us that he was once a fabled Robin Hood who had sworn off violence. But the lust for vengeance has brought him back, and his gangster moniker – ‘Bhaiyya Ji’ – strikes terror in the heart of all and sundry. This beedi-smoking and meek-to-macho Bhaiyya Ji warns the evil dad (Suvinder Vicky) that nothing will stop him from finishing his son. Not even the mediocrity of the film he’s in.

You can see what Bhaiyya Ji is going for. All those euphemistic terms for empty craft: Masala-mass storytelling, South template, ‘80s’ Bollywood tribute, Rohit Shetty campiness. The result is a movie that doesn’t have the self-aware swag or technical skill to hide behind tradition. Every scene is milked dry and then some. Minutes into the story, I started to dread the next over-the-top breakdown moment. Ram Charan is informed of the ‘accident’ and he mumbles for what seems like an hour. He sees the ashes and he goes into shock for what seems like two hours. His mother sees the ashes back in Bihar and she unravels for what seems like three hours. 

Manoj Bajpayee in and as Bhaiyya Ji
Manoj Bajpayee in and as Bhaiyya Ji

Neither Single-Minded nor Screen-Worthy

Anticipating the melodrama makes it worse because there is no escaping it. I resorted to counting sheep in my head, but even the sheep began to mourn the death of their ancestors in super slow-motion. Sandeep Chowta’s deafening background score belongs to a mid-2000s Ram Gopal Varma horror movie. Take the slow-mo out and the 135-minute hamfest has about 21 minutes of semi-edible meat. At one point, the film suddenly remembers that there’s a real world outside of Ram Charan’s retro quest. In comes a random scene that shows the chief minister discussing the ‘mafia’ problem with his advisors. Their decision: Let them fight. Which is another way of the film saying: Nah, too much work. 

The most jarring aspect is the film-making itself. A scene in the morgue is composed of shots that keep breaking the axis for no good reason. A shot of Ram Charan falling into a river looks so fake that I looked away with second-hand embarrassment. An action sequence on a bridge on Mahashivratri looks like a rough dress rehearsal for the real action sequence. The distance between Bihar and Delhi is reduced to a joke by a screenplay that doesn’t believe in geography. On one hand, it’s almost moving to watch Bajpayee celebrate his century (this is his 100th film) by playing a single-screen hero. On the other hand, it’s depressing to conclude that the film itself is neither single-minded nor screen-worthy. 

His previous collaboration with the director was the popular Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai, a tacky melodrama defeated by Bajpayee’s solid performance. But Bhaiyya Ji defeats him by taking itself so seriously. A little more of an exasperated Ram Charan breaking character to tease the old men in his village (“you wear two diapers and you want to join me?”), a filmy breeze hitting the face of a pandit who hears the mythical hero’s voice, or a cowardly cop (Vipin Sharma) proudly owning his cowardice, might have lent Bhaiyya Ji that spoofy edge. But the relief never arrives – it’s more Marjaavaan (2019) and Bhoomi (2018) than An Action Hero (2022). Make of that what you will. At least I’m capable of emoting again. I had forgotten what it felt like to lose my appetite. Who knew a paratha could do that?

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