Always ready for a sequel: Harshvardhan Kapoor on the rise and fall of Bhavesh Joshi Superhero
The vigilante film, which tanked at the box-office, has found a new fandom on Netflix
"Why do we fall?" - Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth in The Dark Knight Rises
The premise of a fallen superhero--when explored cleverly, as in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy--strips the genre of its supposed fantasy; nothing makes a savior more relatable than his ability to fail. Vikramaditya Motwane's desi vigilante, Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, played by Harshvardhan Kapoor, was a hero given to falling. In his first-ever fight scene, he comes crashing down on a villain's expensive Bentley; later, while escaping pursuers on his getaway bike, he skids off on a Mumbai skywalk and bites the dust. Even towards the end, a climactic exterior sequence has Bhavesh being flung off a bridge and thrown into a river.
Yet, strangely, after every ham-fisted attempt at cinema heroism--and after every ruined ploy to fight the forces of corruption--Bhavesh rises. (Limply at first, yes, but with all the necessary clumsiness of a great origin.)
Revisited in that light, Bhavesh Joshi Superhero is a commendably brave film. It shuns the compulsion of delivering a one-off genre piece and focuses thoroughly on world-building. The ambition--as understood by the film's slowburn pace--was to create enduring characters and capture them in their emergence. Despite the indie-world confines of making a 'realistic' superhero film, the makers were clearly aiming to create a riveting universe and expand it forward with more films.
All of which sounds giddily simple-minded now, considering how fatally the film tanked at the box-office. Made on a fairish budget of 21 crores, it earned back a disheartening 1.5 crores and was muscled away from theatres. The critical reception didn't help either, as many were put off by the editing flaws and lack of narrative precision. The due success, as expected from a work of such perseverance, arrived with the digital release on Netflix. Fans who didn't show up in cinemas made up by streaming the film online and a palpable discussion resumed on social media. And while the theatrical disappointment is yet to wear off on the cast and crew, lead actor Harshvardhan Kapoor is content with this new rise of Bhavesh Joshi Superhero. The Netflix reception, he argues, bears out the true merits of the film.
"At the time of release, the film had 70-80 per cent positive votes on bookmyshow.com. On IMDB, it had a high rating of 7.8. Among the critics, some had issues with the film while others really loved it. So it was totally bizarre that Bhavesh Joshi Superhero opened to such a low footfall. We are still trying to grasp the reason behind it. Perhaps it was just a big marketing goof-up. I am receiving thousands of messages on Instagram from fans who are now loving the film. Had we reached them with the right marketing, it could have been a different scenario," Harsh says
While a case against poor marketing can certainly be made (especially in regard to independent films competing with big banner releases), a part of the blame is shared by cinephiles who don't go to theatres and wait around for a film's digital release.
"My first question to anyone who loved the film is, 'Did you watch it in the theatre?' Many have admitted to watching it on torrents or Netflix. From an artistic point of view, you can never gauge the success or failure of a film based on numbers. A Netflix subscription comes at the price of two movie tickets. But the depth of appreciation is just the same. It's sad for the producers, yes, who have lost money on the film, but as artistes and filmmakers we are very happy with the reception."
One criticism that has plagued the film since its release - and continues to come up in discussions - is the overstretched, 160-minute runtime. "Critics must understand that Bhavesh Joshi Superhero is an origin story. It needed a certain set-up. That's just Vikramaditya Motwane's style, even if you look at his other works (Udaan, Lootera, Sacred Games). Perhaps movie-goers were not adapted to the pace of such a film. If we had made Bhavesh Joshi as a six-part Netflix series, it would have been so well received. The pacing is a very unique thing about the film and I stand by the runtime."
On that note, are there plans of reviving the franchise on a digital-only platform, considering its newfound popularity on Netflix? "If we ever do a sequel, it will be only on digital. Unfortunately, the film is not suitable for a theatrical release -- or maybe it is, I don't know. Either way, the first film was made with a franchise in mind, so we definitely want to do a second part. I and Vikram have discussed some ideas for the sequel. Whenever he is up for it, I am too. I would love to return to the character."
On the commercial front, Bhavesh Joshi Superhero is Harsh's second consecutive flop after his debut film, Mirzya (2016). Although blessed with the right surname and industry leverage, isn't he afraid of being chucked out from the race? "Even the best films of my dad (Anil Kapoor) were flops, including Parinda, Lamhe and Nayak. Some films are not well-received upon their release but they become very important later on. I think Bhavesh Joshi Superhero is that film. As an actor, there are compromises you must make to do the films that you love. As far as box-office is concerned, my next film, a biopic on Abhinav Bindra, is very much in a theatrical and commercial space. I am really excited for that film as well."
In retrospect, after assessing the growing cult around Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, Harsh feels certain that the film has carved a special place in Indian popular culture. "The huge amount of fan-art I keep receiving everyday is overwhelming. Bhavesh has surely become a new, relatable pop culture icon. Fans have made the character and the film their own. Given time, I am sure Bhavesh will be remembered as one of the most unique superheroes ever imagined. I can't promise when, but he will surely be back."