After werewolves in Bhediya and dog-eat-dog antics in Kuttey comes an unusual film named after one of wildlife’s most misunderstood creatures – the hyena. Even its Hindi name, lakadbaghha, sounds ungainly. Yet, the striped animal with the uncanny human laugh is a kind of spirit animal in Victor Mukherjee’s Hindi movie, inspiring not only its title but also its vigilante hero.

When not tripling up as a book store salesman, delivery agent and martial arts trainer, Arjun (Anshuman Jha) is secretly trawling the streets of Kolkata to mete out righteous punishment to dog abusers. The slender but decidedly not tender hoodie-wearing canine lover soon crosses paths with Aryan (Paresh Pahuja).

Aryan’s criminal enterprise includes the illegal export of animals and spiking biriyani with dog meat. To complicate matters, Arjun gets involved with Akshara (Ridhi Dogra), a Crime Branch officer investigating the vigilante attacks.

It’s a cross between Enter the Dragon and Minnal Murali with dogs and a hyena thrown in. The 128-minute Lakadbaghha features well-executed action sequences, mostly solid performances and oodles of sincerity.

Alok Sharma’s screenplay is especially strong in the interactions between key characters. Arjun’s employer Dutta (Kharak Mukherjee) is a portly charmer, who insists on lecturing (and boring) customers at his book store on the real Indian history nobody told you about. An endearing and believable bond develops between Arjun and Akshara, which is far more credible than her investigative skills.

Otherwise sharply attuned to Arjun’s reserved ways, Akshara is unable to track down the vigilante or get even a whiff of her brother’s dastardliness (this despite Arjun being easily recognisable despite wearing a mask). Ridhi Dogra beautifully plays Akshara, helping us ignore her character’s shortcomings and overall irrelevance to the plot.

Anshuman Jha similarly slips smoothly under the skin of the next-door hero who is a dog’s best friend. Jha displays impressive footwork in the action sequences – the movie might be advocating animal rights, but it doesn’t ignore its martial arts moments.

It’s an uneven ride, with bursts of energy interspersed with languorous scenes of Arjun and Dutta chit-chatting, flashbacks to Arjun’s father (Milind Soman in a cameo), and the budding romance between Arjun and Akshara.

A blind spot is Paresh Pahuja’s Bond-like villain, whose bite isn’t quite as effective as his bark. Aryan does have a deadly companion, Vik, who has a thing for blood and is straight out of a manga.

Played by Eksha Kerung, a police officer from Sikkim who is also a trained pugilist, Vik is striking, at the very least. The film’s trappings are attractive enough, but the wandering plot and uneven pacing detract from the intended impact.

Lakadbaghha (2023).