Back in the day, Bollywood was pretty okay with having a scene where one of the female characters was kidnapped and harassed by the villain and his henchmen. Usually, this plot beat was used to spark the fire inside the hero and motivate him to do “epic stuff.” Bollywood did this for decades, and somewhere down the line, they realized that women shouldn’t be exploited on-screen so frivolously as it promoted negative stereotypes, and that particular style of storytelling started to die down. That gave way to films like Anjaam, Mardaani, Highway, NH10, and Mom, where the female lead not only had agency, instead of relying on a male savior, but also took on the male tormentor trope in interesting ways. In 2023 itself, two movies with similar plots, InCar and the topic of today’s discussion, Apurva, have tried to enter the “vengeful women” subgenre to varying degrees of success.
Nikhil Nagesh Bhat’s Apurva starts off with an attack on the roadways of Chambal, which is conducted by Jugnu, Sukkha, Balli, and Chhota. They brutally kill the passengers and the driver of the car and then proceed to steal it and deliver it to a local politician, thereby proving that this is what they do professionally. The following day, the gang comes across a bus that refuses to let them pass. Jugnu kills the bus driver, and the rest of them loot the bus. Apurva is a passenger on the bus. She manages to go unnoticed by giving away some of her jewelry. But her fiance Siddharth’s repeated phone calls draw Sukkha’s attention to Apurva. When Siddharth threatens to kill Sukkha for mistreating Apurva, Sukkha decides to abduct her. The men take her to a secluded location with the intention of raping her. Chhota knocks her out, and as the men wait for her to wake up, Apurva plots her escape.
Before getting into the story, I must point out that Apurva was apparently offered to Kiara Advani, and she refused to do it. At one point in the film, Sukkha watches Kabir Singh and lusts over Kiara Advani. That moment can feel like Bhat’s attempt at fleshing out the venomous nature of Sukkha, but if you look at it from the perspective of that behind-the-scenes information, it seems like a peek into Bhat’s spiteful nature. I can be wrong, but it is too specific of a scene to be random. Anyway, coming to the plot of Apurva, well, it’s quite straightforward. The villains kidnap the heroine; the hero promises to save the heroine, but the hero can’t get to the heroine in time. So, the heroine fends for herself and kills all the villains. In doing so, Bhat is talking about how the country is an unsafe place for women, and since some men will prey on women and other men will take too much time to help women, women have to take care of themselves. But does anyone need a 90-minute movie to learn this message?
Women know that crimes against women are at an all-time high. Men know that crimes against women are at an all-time high. Women know that men know that crimes against women are at an all-time high. Men know that women know that crimes against women are at an all-time high. There are a multitude of reasons why the country is in such a sorry state. There are many ways to realistically comment on this situation. There are many ways to handle this topic in an unrealistic way, e.g., Revenge by Coralie Fargeat. But what is the point of stripping away everything that’s remotely educational or inspirational about a film’s plot and then saying, “It sucks to be a woman because you’ve to be your own hero, even though misogyny and sexism are systemic problems”? It’s true that you don’t need too much to hate gross men and empathize with a woman. I don’t need elaborate backstories to know who I should be rooting for and who I should detest. However, as mentioned before, I also don’t need a 90-minute movie to learn that men are bad and women bear the brunt of bad parenting, a lack of sex education, and the normalization of rape culture.
As I scratch my head, wondering who the target audience of Apurva is, I have to bring up its barebones visual storytelling. Barring a transition from Apurva killing one of the goons with a bucket to a shot of Jugnu breaking a piece of onion, the movie isn’t engaging at all. I can appreciate the attempt at limiting the scope of the narrative to one decrepit location, but I have seen others do more with less. I recently rewatched David Fincher’s Panic Room, where he restricted his characters to a two-storey building, and it never felt like the movie was out of options in terms of challenging the villains and the heroines. Bhat, along with editor Shivkumar Panicker and cinematographer Anshuman Mahaley, despite having a deserted patch of land, the ruins of a village, an abandoned train bogey, and a deep well, doesn’t do anything inventive with it. I don’t doubt that the filming process must’ve been difficult for Tara Sutaria, Abhishek Banerjee, Rajpal Yadav, Sumit Gulati, and Aaditya Gupta, especially for Tara, who has to do most of the heavy lifting. However, if the final product is boring because the director thinks running around in circles is “peak cinema,” then I can’t bring myself to applaud the “effort.”
To be honest, Apurva feels like an incomplete film. At the cost of sounding repetitive (much like the movie), saying that men are bad and women are harassed in 2023 is like saying water is wet. Yes, it’s a fact, but what does Bhat, as a storyteller, have to say about it? What does he think something like that does to a woman’s psyche? What does he think about how so-called “well-meaning” men, like Siddharth, react to women who have been sexually harassed? How does a woman deal with the trauma of being assaulted by men while living in a patriarchal society? It seems like Apurva is going to delve into these topics, but that’s when it cuts to the credits. So, all you are left with is bad filmmaking, stale storytelling, and poor acting. Hence, here’s a word of advice for male filmmakers: if you think you don’t have anything to say about the plight of women in India, don’t assume their perspective and tell a redundant story. Vacate your spot and let a woman tell a story based on her lived experiences.