Bhakshak should create some awareness and maybe raise some compassion towards victims of abuse, observes Deepa Gahlot.
There are sporadic media reports on the horrific abuse of girls in orphanages and shelter homes -- helpless minors exploited by the very people tasked with their care.
After a few days of outrage, the news is forgotten as some fresh sensation occupies the media.
Pulkit's film Bhakshak, based on a true story, is about a fearless journalist who tenaciously follows up and exposes abuse in a shelter home run by a powerful gangster.
Vaishali Singh (Bhumi Pednekar) has an independent news channel in Patna, with just one other staffer, the old and wise Bhaskar (Sanjay Mishra). He is her cameraman, assistant and sounding board.
It is not clear how she funds the channel and what audience she has, but she has money to pay an informer, Gupta (Durgesh Kumar), rather generous sums for leads.
Who this man is or how he comes by his information is not clarified either, but he gives her a report that talks about sexual abuse in a shelter home in Munawwarpur, run by the menacing Bansi Sahu (Aditya Srivastava).
Because of his clout in the corridors of power, with politicians, cops and bureaucrats on his payroll, no action is taken on such a damning report.
How did any agency get close enough into the shelter to record those facts, or who signed off on it, is not explained.
The painfully earnest film is rather thin on important details but that does not take away from Vaishali's mission.
The film opens with a grim scene of a girl being tortured and killed, so the veracity of the news is not in question.
The audience is already primed to root for anyone who can bring such monsters to heel.
Later, there are more scenes of the girls being mauled by men, with the help of the sinister female warden, Baby Rani (Gulista Alija).
Expectedly, Vaishali's initial investigations are stonewalled.
A bureaucrat from the social welfare department (Chittaranjan Tripathy) says he could take action only if he officially received the report.
A smiling Bansi easily threatens her, a black car follows her around and cops refuse to file a complaint when her brother-in-law is attacked.
Vaishali also has to fight a battle at home, where her husband Arvind (Surya Sharma) complains when she is not home to cook a meal or her family wants to know why, after six years of marriage, they do not have children.
It never occurs to Vaishali to trace the source of the report, but she starts talking about the police and government inaction on her channel.
Strangely, no other media outlet picks up on the scandal, when this is just the kind of sensational news that would grab eyeballs.
She finds one girl (Tanisha Mehta), who witnessed what happened inside the home, and managed to escape and bases her expose on her reluctant testimony.
She also, finally, gets the support of the newly transferred female police officer Jasmeet Gaur (Sai Tamhankar).
Pulkit and his Director Of Photography Kumar Saurabh get the dingy ugliness of a small town, where people living right next door to that house of horrors would surely be aware of the goings-on but ignore it.
As a background song goes, Shamil Hain, blaming all of society for its complicity in this crime against women.
This is how corruption and apathy corrodes society, and were it not for a few good people, things would be even more hellish for the underprivileged. Orphan girls are the most vulnerable because nobody cares if they disappear. Even honest cops are hampered by the red tape of procedure.
Bhumi Pednekar is given a rather one-note role but she aces it with her sincerity as the voice of journalistic conscience that is getting to be increasingly weak.
The casting of the other characters is spot on.
Interestingly, Bhakshak has been produced by Shah Rukh Khan's Red Chillies. The star may not do a realistic film like this himself but it's good to know that his backing gets it made and exhibited.
A somewhat half-baked Bhakshak does not reveal anything new, but because it is on a popular streaming channel, it will be seen by a lot more people than if it were released in the cinemas.
It should create some awareness and maybe raise some compassion towards victims of abuse.
It would be too much to expect a social campaign or sustained action by the lethargic system, but at least the film does its bit towards the cause.
Bhakshak streams on Netflix.