Based on a horrific crime against destitute children, director Pulkit shuns sensationalism in Bhakshak, but the aesthetic rigour that turns a hard-hitting news story into an absorbing piece of cinema is sorely missing
These days, some of the content on streaming platforms sounds like the progressive statements of a political party that are well-intentioned but are not effectively delivered. Bhakshak (Predator) is yet another addition to the list of well-meaning exposes of what is wrong with the system. It shuns sensationalism but suffers from an outsider’s gaze.
Loosely based on the horrific Muzaffarpur shelter home case of 2018 that shook the nation, it gives an impression that the project has been green-lit because it is based on a true incident and that the creatives have done some basic homework to keep the urban audience invested. The aesthetic rigour that turns a hard-hitting news story into an absorbing piece of cinema is sorely missing.
It feels like a dour visual essay where director Pulkit serves the text and subtext on the table, leaving little for the audience to read and experience. Perhaps that’s why even seasoned actors like Sanjay Mishra and Aditya Shrivastava sound like stock characters.
Bhumi Pednekar is making bold choices by picking subjects that have socio-political significance in the times we live in. Here she plays an intrepid journalist Vaishali who runs a local news channel with a grumpy, ageing cameraman Bhaskar (Mishra).
One day, an informer gives Vaishali a damning social audit report on a shelter home run by a politically influential Bansi Sahu (Shrivastava). The report indicts Bansi and his aides for sexually assaulting the inmates and hence is in danger of getting buried. Curiously, the journalist doesn’t care to talk to those who conducted the social audit. They had the first-person account and it should have mattered for the writers as their job was full of risk. But perhaps, they wanted to make it a one-heroine film. Vaishali keeps looking for a witness making us doubt her journalistic acumen. As luck would have it, she finds a cook who has worked at the shelter home. The way she narrates her account, it sounds clunky and too convenient; so is the sudden emergence of a public interest petition. Struggling to keep the activist in her in check, Vaishali is hamstrung by her own family as they find her passion risky. There is also nothing new in the way Pulkit has painted her husband and brother-in-law as the products of patriarchy.
Then the film captures the struggle of journalists in small towns to report on big news with a heavy hand. It may not be ethically correct always but local news is driven by leaks of reports and videos and not by lengthy sanctimonious pieces to camera. And once that happens, the big media has to pick it up. Here, it seems, Vaishali, the voice of the film, is speaking from the edit page.
She consumes the whole film in finding her feet and the more worldly-wise Bhaskar keeps asking inane questions to her. In the real world, you need better strategies to trap the predators. But then you also need a steady flow of content to fill the libraries of streaming platforms.
Bhakshak is currently streaming on Netflix