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Jungle Misadventure

Saturday, March 30, 2019
By Deepa Gahlot

Chuck Russell
Cast: AVidyut Jammwal, Pooja Sawant, Asha Bhat, Thalaivasal Vijay, Atul Kulkarni, and others
Rating: * *

Chuck Russell (The Mask, Eraser, The Scorpion King) has been imported from Hollywood to direct a laughably simplistic and old-fashioned film, that anybody local could have made just as well, or perhaps better. Junglee seems to have been made just to turn Vidyut Jammwal into an action hero. His chiseled body is certainly more expressive than his face.

It took half a dozen writers to come up with the skinny plot of Junglee—when the story of human and beast had so much potential-- Jodi Picoult’s Leaving Time and Sara Gruen’s Water For Elephants come to mind immediately; why even the old film Haathi Mere Saathi packed more of an emotional wallop than this one. Junglee was probably made with a kiddie audience in mind, and happens to release in India at the same time as Tim Burton’s Dumbo, which makes it look so much worse.

Raj Nair (Jammwal) had left his father’s (Thalaivasal Vijay) elephant sanctuary (supposed to be in Kerala but shot in Thailand) in a huff and broken all contact with him. He practices as a vet in Mumbai, and reluctantly returns, for his mother’s tenth death anniversary. He is followed by a journalist, Meera (Asha Bhat), who wants to do a story on the sanctuary.

Raj immediately connects with his childhood friends—the elephants Bhola and Didi, and humans Shanku (Pooja Sawant), who is now a mahaut, and Dev (Akshay Oberoi), son of his Kalaripayattu guru Gana (Makrand Deshpande), is a forest ranger. Meanwhile, a gang of poachers is after Bhola’s magnificent tusks, and their leader Kotian (Atul Kulkarni) is particularly cruel towards these gentle beasts.

When his father and Bhola are killed, and Raj framed, he breaks out of jail and goes after the gang, who are about to sell the tusks to the highest bidder – an unintentionally comic Chinese man with a blonde bimbo girlfriend.

Russell has concentrated on the scenes of Jammwal flexing his muscles, and breathtaking panoramic views of the forest and the elephant herds. Fine actors like Kulkarni and Deshpande are wasted in thankless roles. The star attractions are, of course, the elephants-- and they deliver what little entertainment the film manages to rustle up.

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