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In defence of Bhavesh Joshi Superhero: Revisiting Harsh Varrdhan Kapoor’s vulnerable masked vigilante

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Harsh Varrdhan Kapoor made an unusual Bollywood debut with the glitzy reincarnation romance Mirzya, a film by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra that evaporated from public consciousness mere months after its release. It wasn’t the sort of debut that Harsh Varrdhan would’ve liked, but the actor wasn’t written off, just yet. In his equally-unconventional follow-up, Vikramaditya Motwane’s Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, Harsh played a masked vigilante who confronts the rotting state of affairs in the country. As (bad) luck would have it, the film clashed at the box office with his sister Sonam Kapoor’s Veere Di Wedding, which received added attention for being Kareena Kapoor Khan’s comeback film after her first pregnancy. But even if Bhavesh Joshi couldn’t find glowing box office success upon release, it has certainly found cult appreciation in the years since.

Ironically, the film isn’t even named after Harsh’s character, but that of his friend, played by Priyanshu Painyuli. Inspired by the anti-corruption movement that had swept the nation some years ago, Siku (Harsh) and the titular Bhavesh (Priyanshu) start their own YouTube channel, Insaaf TV. Hiding their faces under paper bags, they fight for various causes, including environmentalism and road safety. Bhavesh remains passionate and dedicated, but the indifferent Siku has other plans and wants to go to the US. Bhavesh isn’t pleased with this growing disinterest and a fight ensues, leading to a fallout between them.

However, when Bhavesh Joshi discovers that water is being pilfered from a municipal line, he finds himself entangled in an ugly mess of political corruption that goes all the way to the top. Things spiral out of control, and an unwitting Siku is suddenly spurred into action. Armed with a motorcycle and a mask, he moonlights as a superhero. The film doesn’t hide the fact that it is strongly inspired by DC’s brooding hero, Batman. Bhavesh Joshi emerges only at night. Motwane’s narrative involves independent media and the Internet, thereby forming an instant connection with his target audience.

At first, Harsh appears to be ill at ease. But he finds his footing towards the middle of the story, efficiently communicating Siku’s frustrations. He gets into the groove and delivers a toned-down performance, leaving his Mirzya days behind him.

Before Bhavesh Joshi, the handful of superhero films that Bollywood had produced, including the Krrish franchise and A Flying Jatt, invariably involved over-the-top villains and plots that really pushed the limits of believability. In that respect, Bhavesh Joshi had a mature and a rather sincere outlook. The film got its agenda right.

It captured the common man’s angst against a broken system and had a millennial-minded determination to challenge the status-quo. Bhavesh Joshi is the hero you will cheer for; you feel his sincerity and exhaustion. The film was an unusual deconstruction of the comic book hero and not without its flaws, but it was an earnest attempt to portray a regular person’s desperation to take matters into his own hands. Raging against the machine in the present political climate isn’t the most popular thing to do, and perhaps also one of the reasons why the film couldn’t connect with the masses.

Bhavesh Joshi was an impactful attempt at crafting a vulnerable superhero whose superpowers aren’t external, but internal. Despite its heavy-handedness in the second half and bloated length, it does leave you with a lot to ponder over.

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