Banner: Junglee Pictures
Producer: Vineet Jain
Director: Chuck Russell
Cast: Vidyut Jammwal, Pooja Sawant, Asha Bhatt, Thalaivasal Vijay, Atul Kulkarni
Writers: Rohan Sippy, Charudutt Acharya, Umesh Padalkar, Ritesh Shah (Story); Adam Prince (Screenplay); Raaghav Dar (Additional Screenplay)
Music: Sameer Uddin
In 1971, we saw an adorable love blossom between Rajesh Khanna and his beloved elephant, Ramu, in Haathi Mere Saathi. Almost half a century later, this particular genre with animals is being revived with the film Junglee. The makers roped in internationally acclaimed director Chuck Russell to helm this project, and with the film set in India, this collaborative combo has got the emotion just right.
The story begins in the jungles of the Chandrika Elephant Sanctuary, where hunters are planning to attack the king of the elephant herd, Bhola. The film cuts to a veterinarian clinic in Mumbai, where Dr Raj Nair is hesitating to go back to his home, which is the sanctuary.
After meeting a journalist who wants to do a story on the elephants there, they both decide to visit the forest reserve. As Raj reacquaints himself with the surroundings that he grew up in and reconnects with his childhood best friend Bhola, the hunters get ready to attack. On the night of the attack, tragedy strikes the sanctuary, which forces Raj to avenge the wrongdoings. How he battles the hunters who try to sell ivory cut from the tusks of elephants there, deals with heartbreaking revelations and remembers the lessons he learnt when he was a boy, is what takes the story forward.
A major element of the film is based around the feeling of love for nature and animals, but the makers have expertly balanced that with the right kind of emotion and obviously, lots of action. It has to be said that action directors, Chung Chi Li, Parvez Shaikh, Seayoung Oh and lead actor Vidyut Jammwal himself have outdone themselves in this film.
The action choreography is a major highlight, with clean and innovative moves and the right kind of passion. It is a smart move by Russell and the makers to keep the dance-like action choreography precise and bloodless. The scenes in no way get violent, which makes it a perfect fit for the target audience – kids.
The storyline of the film is fairly simple but the elements of nature and the novelty of real elephants instead of VFX generated ones that has become a norm nowadays, is another USP of this film.
We all know that Chuck Russell is known for his work with animals but the way he has brought out the emotion from them as well as the actors is something that doesn’t often happen in Indian cinema. The sheer dedication of the cast in training for their roles is evident in the ease with which they perform.
Another thing that stands out is the excellent cinematography by Mark Irwin and Sachin Gadankush, who catch the scenic beauty of nature as well as the dark and dangerous parts of the jungle with the right eye. This and the high-octane production values enhance the film quite a bit.
Editing by Jayesh Shikarkhane and Vasudevan Kothandath is crisp and keeps the film tight, although the transitions from one scene to another and the build-up to the pivotal scenes could have been better. What did help with these scenes is the strong background score by Sameer Uddin and Tanuj Tikku, which adds to the thrilling sequences.
However, the songs, barring the final promotional track Garje gajraj humare, are not that memorable. But, thankfully, none of the tracks interfere with the narrative of the story.
As he steps out of his Hollywood comfort zone, director Chuck Russell should be commended for getting the desi flavour right in Junglee, while he touches upon emotions which can be universally identified. A film like this could have been overly preachy, with the ‘save the elephants’ message’it gives out but thanks to Russell’s subtle style, it has been portrayed in a way that has just the correct impact without being moralistic.
Performance-wise, Vidyut Jammwal is tailor-made for the hardcore action scenes in the film. The actor pushes himself to get the sentiment right and his effort is visible. Debutante actresses Pooja Sawant and Asha Bhatt make a good impression even though there isn’t enough meat in their characters. Thalaivasal Vijay is good and Atul Kulkarni is decent. A special mention of the elephants in the film, for being majestic and adorable!
Verdict: A joyride for kids!