The most inspired moment in Bhediya is a segue from a wolf’s howl to a ballad by a frequently parodied singer. Props to whoever came up with the scene, and further props to the singer for being a part of the film’s best joke.

Stree director Amar Kaushik’s new movie, written by Niren Bhatt, is a mishmash of creature feature, ecological fable and horror comedy. Varun Dhawan plays Bhaskar, an exploitative contractor by day and a bloodthirsty werewolf by night.

The film is set in Arunachal Pradesh. The north-eastern state’s gorgeous vistas and dense forest cover (some of it actual and some of it seemingly enhanced by visual effects) serve as the arena for a contest between uncaring humans and nature.

Bhaskar is hell-bent on building a road through a forest. Accompanied by his cousin Janardhan (Abhishek Banerjee) and his friend Joe (Paalin Kabak), Bhaskar stomps about the ecologically fragile zone until a wolf chomps on his bum.

Baaki Sab Theek, Bhediya (2022).

A fair portion of the 156-minute runtime is devoted to the condition of Bhaskar’s posterior. Janardhan, Joe and veterinarian Annika (Kriti Sanon) gaze seemingly forever at Bhaskar’s derriere. The gag literally scrapes the bottom of the barrel when Bhaskar bays at the moon with his tail peeking out of bright blue underwear.

How many boxers must a werewolf wear out before you call him a werewolf? There is so else much going on in Bhediya – frantic direction, wall-to-wall dialogue, Sachin-Jigar’s distracting background score – that some of the better gags and obvious plot points rush by.

Bhaskar makes a discovery so startling that neither of his friends react to it. Perhaps the thin mountain air has something to do with the impaired mental faculties on display. Although one of the werewolf’s victims is rushed to a hospital, there is no medical help available for Bhaskar except Annika.

The film takes forever to set itself up, finally coming together in its post-interval section. Despite having spelt out its themes in nearly every other scene, Bhediya eventually snaps into place for a satisfying stand-off that includes a mid-credits tease.

Bhediya has the unmistakeable hangover of Stree, Amar Kaushik’s debut feature from 2018. Bhediya repeats some of Stree’s elements: the cocktail of chills and chuckles, a trio of oafish young men, an older hocus pocus-spouting character, an evocative location, and a heroine who stays in the background.

The actor Abhishek Banerjee provides further continuity between Stree and Bhediya, playing the same slack-jawed character in both productions. Deepak Dobriyal replaces Pankaj Tripathi as the dispenser of gnomic statements.

Although Bhediya has its share of wild moments and an enthusiastic cast up for all manner of buffoonery, it lacks Stree’s deft touch. Written by Raj & DK, Stree recognised the inherent silliness of this kind of movie and benefitted from not taking itself too seriously.

The Arunachal Pradesh setting leads to the inevitable speech about the stereotyping of people from the North East. This sermon, delivered by an impassioned Joe, is about as convincing as the shaman who fails to sense Bhaskar’s shapeshifting and the local populace that largely stays out of view as Bhaskar’s lupine avatar lurks about.

Kaushik’s shaky hold on his narrative steadies when it comes to his actors. Deepak Dobriyal and Paalin Kabak are memorable foils to an in-form Varun Dhawan. Putting his buffness to good use and sportingly letting himself be the butt of humour, Dhawan display heroic levels of commitment to a film that doesn’t trust its audiences or its own animal instinct enough.

Bhediya (2022).