Film: Netflix Bhakshak
Cast: Bhumi Pednekar, Sanjay Mishra, Aditya Srivastava, Sai Tamhankar, Surya Sharma
Sexual abuse in shelter homes — how often have newspaper headlines screamed this horrifying truth? As ‘Bhakshak’ tells us the story of protectors turning predators, what is already in public domain clearly acquires an even more monstrous hue. ‘Bhakshak’ starts with a horrific picture of men in charge of a shelter home in Munnawarpur, Bihar. Their cruelty towards the hapless minors knows no limits. As things pan out later, too, the narrative makes no bones about portraying them as the devil incarnate. That such men (women too) are monsters bears no reiteration.
Fighting them is the journalist and photographer team of Vaishali Singh (Bhumi Pednekar) and Bhaskar Sinha (Sanjay Mishra). Living in Patna, they run Koshish News, a small-time news channel which has no resources, limited viewership and even lesser clout. Yet, as an informer provides them a social audit report of shelter homes, they decide to unmask the ghastly deeds of the mighty coterie of unscrupulous men.
Needless to say, the combination of the young and talented Bhumi and the gifted Mishra is some alchemy. If Bhumi gets the inflections of her middle class gutsy woman and her diction pitch perfect, trust Mishra to not miss a single beat. The grim story of exploitation of minor girls sparkles each time he is present in the frame. And he sure gets quite a bit of screen time. Notable is Surya Sharma, who turns a new leaf here. Viewers would remember him as the demonic Rinku Singh of ‘Undekhi’, which he essayed with powerful conviction. Here he plays the somewhat diffident yet supportive husband of Bhumi and manages to impress even in a not-so-big role. There is a telling scene in which he tells his wife how in a ‘purush pradhan samaj’, when a woman sets out to do something meaningful, it’s not easy for her husband to come out in the open to support her.
Though ‘Bhakshak’ does bare societal prejudices, director Pulkit and co-writer Jyotsana Nath are not out to make an overtly blatant feminist statement. Nod to women power manifests in one-liners and small touches like how things begin to change when women are vested with power. Apart from Bhumi as the righteous Vaishali, there is Sai Tamhankar as the well-meaning SSP. Alas, she, too, is helpless in the system tilted in favour of the powerful.
Aditya Srivastava as the politically-connected Bansi, the amoral owner of the shelter home, is the epitome of vileness. The ‘CID’ actor manages to pull off even the rough edges of villainy with ease.
One could argue why these men are painted in such thick shades of black, but can there be any justification for their heinous crimes? Perhaps the writing and direction could have used a more restrained and skilful approach as the Manoj Bajpayee-starrer ‘Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai’, also about sexual offence against a minor, did. But then the repugnance we do not feel when reading reports of shelter inmates being sexually exploited overcomes us while watching ‘Bhakshak’.
Where the film also scores is how it does not climax on a bombastic, triumphant note. Thanks to our heroine’s single-minded tenacity, the guilty are exposed. But as the menacing glint playing on Bansi’s face tells you, it’s not endgame for him and his ilk.
The mini sermon that Bhumi delivers in the finale reminds of you a similar address by Shah Rukh Khan in ‘Jawan’. She talks to the viewers directly, reprimanding them on how their quest for spicy news and all things entertaining has made them insular. Is her homily a veiled nudge towards how we see cinema too? And we needn’t add that this film is not masala entertainment as most cine-buffs want or understand. But, despite a few familiar interventions, it does bring out the horror of the unpardonable crime and raises our hackles.
The question, however, remains: will we pay more heed next time a similar story breaks out? If not, as Bhumi asks in the film, would you still count yourself as a human being? The song ‘Hum Shamil’ has already underlined that we as a society stand complicit. No need to at least turn a blind eye to ‘Bhakshak’, which streams on Netflix.