Actors: Bhumi Pednekar, Sanjay Mishra
Bhakshak (Predator) is a realistic film. The only element of fantasy in it is the fact of a two-member, gritty, crusading cameraman-reporter/anchor team, on a Kinetic Honda, running a TV plus YT news channel, that has devoted itself to cover one story, in shocking detail, relentlessly over days, if not months, to uncover the serious shadiness going on inside an all-girls’ shelter.
The news channel is Patna-based, with its reporting remit across Bihar—basically, towns named here such as Samastipur, Sitamarhi, Munger, Darbhanga, Hajipur, Madhubani Motihari… The only place that perhaps doesn’t exist is where this film is supposedly set, i.e. Munawwarpur.
Which, if I’m not mistaken, is actually a village in UP. The Munawwarpur in this movie is a substitute for Muzaffarpur, where the triggering events of this script infamously occurred in 2018, behind locked doors of the girls’ shelter run by an NGO, Seva Sankalp Evam Vikas Samiti.
The nexus between local politicians, police, and prashasan (administration) was complete. The girls were endlessly raped and tortured.
A social audit report by an agency called NISS in this movie, which I’m guessing is replacement for TISS (Tata Institute of Social Sciences), had already indicted this NGO/shelter. The exposé was initially ignored, it seems.
Firstly, this film gets its gaze and tone right. Which can’t be said for so many desi movies that display atrocities against women, but are, in fact, similarly exploitative in their own way—as the film goes on to salaciously, shamelessly recreate the same tortures that it accuses the antagonists of!
We call them fem-jep (or females in jeopardy) pix. Often the aim is to subconsciously titillate the pervy male viewer. The violence here is totally off the screen. The suggestion is enough. The actors surely look and feel their parts.
Think of Bhumi Pednekar as an Erin Brockovich kinda character, if you may—suitably subdued and sincere; hardly the screechy embarrassment she put herself through in her last outing in theatres, Thank You For Coming (2023).
Together with her equally sorted deputy, Sanjay Mishra, they take on enemies way larger than their scope/size. As in the obvious, one-dimensional villain, Aditya Srivastava, and co. If only the script matched the quality of actors on screen.
What about the script? Just that you know, from the opening beat/shot onwards, where it’s headed, and how it’ll predictably end—without one bit of an engaging drama for scenes or sub-plots to fill up what’s between. Good intentions can be a dulling trap.
You watch the film, hence, thoroughly bored, perennially with a look of knowingness on your face—simply waiting for the uniformly dark tragedy to end, and for you (saying, “Yeah, yeah, I get it”) to somehow just move on!
Bhakshak is produced by Shah Rukh Khan’s production company, Red Chillies. Somehow, I’d felt the same with Red Chillies’ Love Hostel (2022), similarly a direct-to-OTT release, although that was more a mad actioner, set around an inter-religious couple (or what’s been termed love jehad, lately).
There really is no other layer to this story as well—that a long-form, news report can’t sufficiently capture, and that a fine documentary won’t do better justice.
Since mainstream TV news is too busy providing us crappy entertainment instead—at least this film shines a light on a phenomenon so common, that a simple Google search shows you multiple such stories, from Bhopal, Nashik, Thiruvannamalai, to Muzaffarpur, of course.
That’s all that this film does too. But you knew that anyway.