Against the backdrop of a seedy small town, Bhakshak sets out to explore two questions: how long can one remain silent in the face of injustice, and what does it mean to be a journalist?
Profound as they may be, these are not new questions. And despite the many ways in which they have been explored—the most marked perhaps being the 1983 film Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron—a satisfactory answer is yet to be found.
Bhakshak, directed by Pulkit and starring Bhumi Pednekar, is not the answer.
Pednekar plays a struggling television journalist who gets her big story one night from a source. She is skeptical at first, but her trusted camera person, Bhaskar Sinha (a delightful Kumud Mishra), snoops around to pry out enough flesh from what is just another government audit report. The stakes in this one are higher, for it takes a look a shelter home for underage girls—the ones who have no one looking out for them, as the viewer is told repeatedly. From there to getting some semblance of justice is the journey of Pednekar’s character, Vaishali Singh.
Despite the promising premise, Pednekar is predictable in Bhakshak. There is a mellowness to her performance at most places till she rouses a key witness into action. It is a mellowness that does little to distract you from her repeated and inconsistent mispronunciation of one key word in the narrative. Once you have heard it, you cannot unhear it. In a language where the livelier nuances have been picked up, this is jarring.
The movie catches many strains—wry jokes centred around the Internet, an overbearing patriarchy and a conditioned matriarchy, and individual appetite for the misery of others—but most of it is just tokenism. After a while, the labour begins to show. The film feels heavy, and not just as a metaphor.
The camera holds the dust of a small-town environment well, and a few shots take you to the figurative asking of that repeated question of how much we should care, if at all. At the end of this three-hour-plus movie, when a final tease to the fourth wall has been made, we are honestly beyond caring.
Bhakshak is a film in need of better storytelling. Just having a heart in the right place does not matter.