Take a subject like animal welfare and we have been having sporadic movies ever since Sandow Chinappa Devar made films like Haathi Mere Saathi over 40 years ago.
Most such movies have elements of human crime, if not depravity. And Lakadbaggha (for those unaware, it means ‘hyena’) is no different. Where it does make a claim to be outré is in making its hero, a courier-cum-assistant in a bookshop or library, to be an animal vigilante. Arjun (Anshuman Jha) goes feral whenever someone upsets creatures that cannot defend or express themselves. He is also trained in martial arts, and beats the offending homo sapiens to a pulp.
He is naturally known as an anonymous and hooded man who pulverizes offenders, but never kills them, and the cops are looking out for clues to apprehend him. Assigned on the task is Akshara D’Souza (Riddhi Dogra), who unknowingly meets and befriends him in his capacity as courier.
Another grouse for Arjun is when his dog is not allowed to be a part of the city’s canine competition as it is an Indian breed and even though we are in the third decade of the millennium, the qualification is only foreign breeds. For this, he takes up issue with the showrunner (Paresh Pahuja), who turns out to be Akshara’s brother. And he only looks at animals as soulless creatures, who can be sources of money for him, and his prime objective at that moment is to send a captured wild hyena to a client in Dubai in exchange for a huge amount of money. Things slowly become increasingly violent and finally justice is meted out where due.
The film, which claims to be inspired by real events and the illicit animal trade, aims high message-wise, but does not reach the cinematic heights necessary to attain that objective. For one, this should have been an OTT release as it has no artiste or director who can pull audiences into the movie-halls—and in the absence of crowd-pullers, we need super-strong content. Which is also missing.
The action sequences (Vicky Arora and Force Square) are well-orchestrated but look too “filmi” rather than having the raw and organic grit that was indicated. The emotions are handled with part skill and part clumsiness, and there are jerks in the narrative, like in the way the villain’s mistress-cum-deputy (Eksha Kerung) suddenly turns up in Arjun’s neighborhood and they have a hand-to-hand combat.
The background music is merely serviceable and far from extraordinary, though the cinematography (Jean-Marc Selva) goes along well with the varied moods. The VFX (Neel Trivedi) too is of a mixed variety, and the CGI-generated hyena looks fake. Victor Mukherjee’s direction, too, is good only in parts, as is the writing. The first case where a bunch of goons come to confront Arjun is too contrived, to give just one example.
Anshuman Jha (known for a chain of B-grade films, the sex-based 2011 success, Love Sex Aur Dhokha, and the series Mastram, besides as assistant director) handles his role well and the action excellently. Riddhi Dogra is effective as Akshara, though she has no dramatic highs. Paresh Pahuja and Eksha Kerung convey the right amount of menace. Paresh especially is impressive and Eksha, incidentally, is a North-East Indian cop and professional boxer.
The film should have made up its mind to be either realistic or camp, and not sail in both boats. This proves to be its undoing and it ends up as just an action vehicle sans big names.
Sadly, Hindi cinema’s opening innings in 2023 remains weak, and the only improvement over 2022 is that last year, the first theatrical release came on February 11 instead of January 13!
First Ray Films’ Lakadbaggha Produced by: Anshuman Jha Directed by: Victor Mukerjee Written By: Alok Sharma Music: Simon Fransquet Starring: Anshuman Jha, Riddhi Dogra, Paresh Pahuja, Eksha Kerung, Bijou Thaangjam, Adrita De, Milind Soman & others