Bhaagamathie: A clever end urges you to forget insipid beginnings

I’d have been tempted to call Bhaagamathie cliched, dull, and utterly uninspired, if it weren’t for its clever end portions, which jolt you from deep slumber and make you sort of reimagine the whole story in new light. Still, the twist is but a mild respite from the torrential rain of cliches you are subject to for close to two hours. Director G Ashok seems to have trusted that the twist alone would suffice to lend a different colour to all the previous portions, but really, why did they have to be so insipid in the first place?

For the longest time, it’s the usual. A lonely woman. A haunted house. Unusual nocturnal activity. Resumption of normalcy during the day. The haunted house scares are almost unbearably mundane, and perhaps, may not have been half as bad, had composer Thaman not taken it upon himself to scare the audience with the loudness of his background score. He replaces all the quiet with din, and where a simple ‘whoosh’ might suffice, you get a full-scale orchestral shriek. It’s a big reason why you never truly feel Sanchala’s (Anushka Shetty) fear at being all alone in the dilapidated mansion. The ever-existent background music acts as a supportive companion.

Bhaagamathie
Director: G Ashok
Cast: Anushka Shetty, Unni Mukundan, Jayaram, Asha Sharath

It also doesn’t help that Ashok can’t resist the easy bait of milking the horror for some cheap laughs from the side characters. As it is, the premise itself — of a murderer being left to fend for herself in a lonely mansion — feels a bit iffy. Perhaps, instead, it may have been more productive had the director spent more time on establishing in how Sanchala makes the most of her circumstances, how she formulates her strategy.

Anushka beautifully sells the contrast between the innocence of Sanchala and the brutality of Bhaagamathie. One moment, she’s docile and reticent, and the other, she’s viciously hammering her own palm into the wall. It works metaphorically too, given she, in a way, crucifies herself; given she’s driven to do that because she has to pay for a sin she committed. Perhaps I’m reading a bit too much into it, but the idea is really interesting. If nothing else, I’m warmed just by the fact that directors like Ashok are writing stories that are centred on women. The problem though is, he seems to be in a tearing hurry to get to the end portions — which I’m sure he recognised as being clever — and in this hurry, he ends up filling long stretches with unimaginative genre content.

Take, for instance, the love angle between Sanchala, an IAS officer, and Shakti (Unni Mukundan), who true to his name is the strength behind which marginalised communities rally. Truth be told, I’m not even sure there needed to be romance between them in the first place — and definitely not the kind we get in the film anyway. Just the fact that the conscientious Sanchala meets a soul mate in Shakti isn’t good enough to spark the romance. And so, you get a scene of Shakti saving her from a car that’s set on fire. The IAS officer is apparently too scared to just open the door and step out. It’s a tad disheartening when even in a story that has an educated, independent woman at its heart, you need to have her be rescued from a fabricated situation, and later, have a song, in which you get her gaze helplessly at the alpha male. No, before you ask, there’s nothing wrong in an educated woman falling in love, but how about we balance the scales a bit? How about more scenes that show him being amazed by her competency, her power?

A bigger issue I had with this trilingual is that it isn’t really one. They’ve brought together actors from across Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam industries, but seem to have found it not worth their while to shoot the film in all three languages separately. They’ve done the usual thing in getting the actors to speak in different languages across the film. This results in many awkward portions where the lips say one thing and the voice, another. Sanchala yells, “Bhaagamathie adda!”, and in Tamil, you hear, “Bhaagamathie edam.” There’s much worse. In fact, there’s a place where the sync is so horrible that she’s not even moving her lips when the voice plays in the background. It’s incredibly sloppy, but yet, given that the film ends quite decently, you almost forget about all this. Finishing a film well is half the work done, they say, but what if you have to endure a mountain of boredom to get there? Is it still worth it?

This review was written for Cinema Express, the cinema division of The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to its page if you’d like to share it.

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