‘Bhaagamathie’ review: Looking beyond the obvious.

‘Bhaagamathie’ review: Looking beyond the obvious.

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Johnson Cherian.
Everything isn’t what it seems in writer-director Ashok’s Bhaagamathie, despite him indulging in a few familiar, stale tropes. The biggest chink in the armour is the sight of a too-good-to-be-true on-screen politician. No prizes for guessing he will turn out to be a wolf in a sheep’s clothing.
We also know that a woman who is cornered, in this case jailed and later interrogated in a forsaken haunted building, will be a victim. And if you’ve watched a few blockbuster Telugu films, you’re likely to think of a connection between the woman and the unseen force in that house. A spirit of a wronged woman waiting for revenge, unrequited love, reincarnation… we’ve seen it all.
So when IAS officer Chanchala (Anushka Shetty)’s journey into the Bhaagamathie palace begins, it all looks familiar. The technical team ups the game to keep you invested in this cocktail of politics, murder, horror and comedy. Ravinder’s production design, Madhie’s cinematography and Thaman’s music score play to the strengths of the horror template.
The actual story takes time to bloom. Chanchala is whisked away from jail where she’s serving a sentence after being accused of murdering her husband (Unni Mukundan), and interrogated against rules by an additional CBI officer Vyshnavi Natarajan (Asha Sharath), an ACP who also happens to be her brother in law (Murali Sharma). There are also a few constables whose antics add to the humour quotient. Dhanraj, Vidyu Raman and co are a riot.
For a long time, the atmospherics of the horror genre take centrestage. Chanchala walks into one eerie room after another peering through dust-laden windows, rickety staircases and shows no fear of having to be in this strange place. A book and larger-than-life paintings foretell a story of queen Bhaagamathie. But parallely, something else happens when Chanchala asks her interrogator to ‘think big’. It’s also the director Ashok asking us to look beyond the obvious and pre-empting that he’s likely to pull the rug from under our feet.
Bhaagamathie gets better as it progresses. When the conceit begins to unravel, it reminds you of a few international films and closer home, Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani. But thankfully Ashok does something more. When the different pieces of the puzzle fall in place to reveal the big picture, it talks about his narrative skills than the plot itself which turns out to be the usual mix of politics and deceit. But, oh wait. There’s scope for something more in the open ending.
Bhaagamathie is a well-constructed deceit that could have been even better had it not played safe. What if the woman had grey shades and what if we truly had an unpredictable villain? The solid cast led by Anushka Shetty makes up for the lacunae. Anushka headlines the film with all her majesticity and evokes equal sympathy. Jayaram is good but since his character holds no surprises, the put-on act doesn’t really connect. Asha Sarath and Unni Mukundan are effective in their parts and Murali Sharma is as dependable as ever.
If the team decides to build on the open-ended story and take us back into the Bhaagamathie adda, a few more surprises will help.

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