Director G Ashok’s Bhaagamathie is centered around Chanchala (Anushka Shetty), an IAS officer who is serving a prison sentence for murdering her lover, a social activist. A little while into the film, she is introduced to the audience in a Kabali-sque scene in her prison cell from where she is whisked away at night by a team of CBI officers and cops, to a ruined palace in the middle of a jungle for interrogation in a high-profile robbery case. The place is known to be haunted by the spirit of Bhaagamathie, a princess who committed suicide inside the palace, rendering the majestic structure damned forever.
At first glance, Bhaagamathie is made up of every stereotypes in Telugu-Tamil cinema’s horror-drama genre. The story unfolds in a giant haunted structure. There are stories about kings, queens and an evil army general. The protagonist is a young woman who was betrayed by the people whom she wants to take revenge against. There are jumps that scare aplenty, and supporting characters who animatedly tremble in fear every now and then to evoke laughter. The story isn’t pitch-perfect; there are loopholes all over it.
But Bhaagamathie isn’t a snooze fest. Director G Ashok, manages to take diversions from the hackneyed tropes with the help of some impressive writing. It is no Aranmanai, Chandramukhi or Kanchana. It doesn’t have women whose sole contribution is some skin show and dialogues laced with sexual innuendos. The production design isn’t tacky, and the film’s cinematography by Madhi doesn’t follow comic book sensibilities. The interiors are lit up beautifully to aid the story-telling, without reducing the frames into a random splash of colours. And the film doesn’t aspire to be a conventional horror drama founded on theology. What solves the problems isn’t a pinch of vermilion, a ray of light from an idol’s eyes, or spells from a holy text. The film blends genres, borrows plot ideas from films such as Drishyam and Usual Suspects, and ends up as an imperfect, yet thoroughly entertaining drama.
Moreover, the film has a formidable lead actor who can actually act, not pretend to be one by unleashing a flux of inane comedy and over-the-top acting. There is hardly an actor – male or female – in Telugu cinema who has a better screen presence than Anushka Shetty whose performance here is gracefully restrained; even in the vital scene where she reveals her most ferocious form as an undead queen. The character’s backstory plays out reasonably well, helping you emotionally connect to the lead character, and root for her in her dramatic quest for vengeance that follows.
The head of the CBI team, Vaishnavi (Asha Shareth), wants Chanchala to spill some beans about her former boss, a Union minister with a foolproof track-record. However, Chanchala wouldn’t break, no matter how hard the cops or even the supernatural forces in the palace, try. At night, she wanders through the corridors of the palace, looking for clues, and is sometimes chased by an unknown force. The narrative is interestingly structured, with flashbacks playing out bit by bit. The main characters aren’t in shades of black and white. The film presents them in a grey light that hints that there is always something more to than what meets the eye.
Jayaram gets his best role in many years in Bhaagamathie, as Eeswar Prasad, a powerful politician whom you can’t really see through. His signature tendency to over-play expressions, work in favour of him here. The actor naturally belongs to melodrama. However, Chanchala’s relationship with Shakti (Unni Mukundan) is plain, and lazily written. It is essentially a gender role reversal of a tried and tested trope. She is a powerful bureaucrat, and he, a righteous social activist. They are like the lead pair of Ghajini – she comes across him indulging in noble acts, and falls for his kind and brave heart.
The secret to covering up the cliches and flaws in a conventional big-budget potboiler is to pace it intelligently; without letting its lead star to hog more light than it deserves. Interestingly, in an industry reigned by larger than life male superstars, it is an Anushka Shetty-starrer that manages to create one of the most entertaining films in this genre. In hindsight, Bhaagamathie isn’t a path-breaking film that breaks conventional style of film-making or narrates a rebellious story. But it uses the resources wisely, without under-estimating the importance of political correctness or the intellect of the audience.
The Bhaagamathie review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.