Bhakshak on Netflix never derails from the story it wants to tell and stays true to its alleged source material.
Reportedly inspired by the tragic and haunting Muzaffarpur Shelter Home Case, Bhakshak is set in the fictional town of Mannawarpur, Bihar. A young aspiring journalist Vaishali Singh (Bhumi Pednekar), stumbles on a report that reveals that many girls in the Munnawarpur Shelter Home are being sexually and physically abused and this is going on because the person at the helm of things is a powerful leader. She gets on to bust the racket and opens a can of worms.
Making a film about true crime stories and not falling into the trap of playing it safe is a journey only a few go on. One has to be brave to tell seedy stories of our times on a scale and on a platform as large as Netflix. And this racket was busted as recently as 2018. The final hearing, where the main culprit and his 18 subordinates were sentenced to life imprisonment, took place on January 20, 2020. The Supreme Court called it a ‘state-sponsored incident’. The gravitas of this case is intense and the makers understand that well.
Bhakshak is penned by Pulkit (director of Bose Dead or Alive and Maroon) and Jyotsana Nath (producer of Maroon and AD on Dedh Bigha Zameen). Together, they stay true to the source material and even when they change the names of the people involved, they never dilute the intensity of what happened. Their attempt is never to serve you a revolutionary screenplay or a structure that will leave you stunned. They chose to write a linear, simple screenplay that sticks to the story and does not let you lose track.
There is a lot at stake because Bhakshak is not an easy story to tell. Not having the state government named and taking a side is not an option. But you can see the attempt to keep it minimal and in the day and age we are in, that is quite understandable. But what Bhakshak does best to sabotage that is to create a woman at the centre who is not just fighting crime in the outside world but is also living a life of the gaze that comes with her gender indoors. Her choice to not have a child after six years of marriage is a problem; her husband can taunt her for being late but cannot feed himself.
Bhumi excels as Vaishali. She goes home and her husband gaslights an already-triggered woman, and she schools him in the best way possible. The performance is heartfelt and comes from her core. For someone who has been following her on social media and witnessing the ‘Jenner’ness of it all, it fascinates me how she transforms into someone I might know from the very first frame.
Bhakshak is so aware of what it wants to say that it organically blends with the voice it intends to raise. A top-level officer tells a DSP of a state to manage seatbelt problems because he wants to ignore an entire racket taking place behind his back. Saie Tamhankar, in her brief role, brings a much-needed female ally to this script. However, her side of the story needed more to make her a pivotal part.
Bhakshak never derails from the story it wants to tell and stays true to its alleged source material. There is Koshish News, a homage to Tata Institute of Social Science’s Koshish Project that turned out to be an eye-opener. Through Koshish News, Pulkit and the team also talk about the state of the media. A local news reporter who cares about society works from a makeshift studio that is on the verge of shutting down because she has no audience. Whereas, well-groomed men serving the propaganda of the ruling government have all the resources at their disposal. Bhakshak is smart when it tries to make some critical points subtly.
Sanjay Mishra’s talent is much beyond my capabilities to dissect. He is the powerhouse that enables a lot of realness in the films he chooses to star in. In a scene where Bhumi and he are waiting for the local gangster to arrive in his living room, Mishra looks at a picture and says something that is hilarious but in an intense setting. Only an actor of his calibre can balance that. It almost feels like it was not in the script but the actor improvised that and Bhumi played off his energy.
Bhakshak is not without its faults. It uses all the plot devices that can make it an easily sellable movie, as it opens with a very disturbing sequence. There are moving speeches, the change of heart in a character is very dramatic and random, and the antagonist is never shown to understand the darkness in him. But all of this is blended so well with what is potent in the script that you understand why the makers might have chosen those paths. At its core, Bhakshak is an important film, telling us to wake up and ask questions of the very people we have given the power to make things better for us. Predators must be reprimanded and that is the sole cause.
Kudos to Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment for enabling a movie like this and giving voice to a story that deserves it. As a superstar, King Khan has now begun giving back to the society that made him through his films and this is the era we would love to see bloom. In his films, he advises people to vote wisely and calculatedly and to ask questions. In the ones he produces, he wants them to see what is happening around them, and we must all appreciate it.
Bhakshak is an important story that meets a good filmmaker and a brilliant set of actors, and together they make a movie that is not trying to be different but can only be heard. Watch Bhakshak on Netflix asap.