Bhaagamathie movie review: Anushka Shetty owns this edge-of-the-seat thriller
Director: G Ashok
Cast: Anushka Shetty, Unni Mukundan, Jayaram, Usha Sarath, Vidyulekha Raman
Star rating: 3/5
Dark corners, secret alleyways and doors that open on their own accord, Bhaagamathie opens in a once opulent house whose glory days are long over. Peeling paint on the decrepit walls only spotlights the portraits of the royal family that hang on them. Like everything in the house, they are old and dilapidated. But what explains the fact that the aristocratic faces on the posters have been scratched out, as IAS officer Chanchala discovers when she explores the house? The mystery of Bhaagamathie is compelling but there is more to the story.
Essentially, the film is the story of Chanchala, jailed for killing her fiancé. However, CBI Joint Director Vaishnavi Natarajan (Asha Sarath) needs her to turn witness in a case where ancient idols are being stolen. Vaishnavi believes minister Ishwar Prasad is behind the theft but the one who can prove her suspicions are true is the minister’s former personal assistant, Chanchala.
Chanchala becomes our surrogate in the film -- even Bhaagamathie’s story is revealed from her perspective. Each time she stumbles upon a secret room, or an old book, or a movie reel, we watch with bated breath to know what happens next and there lies the problem. The director has chosen to tell the story of Chanchala and Bhaagamathie simultaneously. So when we expect to learn more about this princess who probably lived in the late 19th or early 20th century, we see Chanchala’s life unfold and vice versa.
The narrative going back and forth is confusing and disconcerting. What keeps us hooked to the film despite this flaw is the sound and camera.
The background score by S Thaman adds to the suspense of the film. The camera work by R Madhi goes hand in hand with the plot -- soft tones for romance and dark corners that come alive in particularly horrifying scenes. One particular moment that will stay with you is Chanchala nailing her hand to the wall and it speaks of the cinematographer’s talent.
The gem of this film is, of course, Anushka Shetty. She plays Bhaagamathie with such grace and talent that it leaves us in awe of her performance. That one scene where she stylishly drapes her shawl shows her screen presence. If anyone has doubts that she can carry a film on her shoulders, Bhaagamathie is the answer.
Unni Mukundan as Shakti is a great addition to the Telugu film industry. His short role is the heart of this story. The conflict begins and ends with him.
Jayaram as Ishwar Prasad starts off as a politician whose only intention, he says, is to do good for the society. The film begins with his emotional speech where he promises that he is ready to retire from politics if the government doesn’t find the people behind idol theft. We believe in his Gandhian approach to politics, and watch the character grow bigger with each scene. The dialogue between Ishwar and Chanchala towards the end of the film is owned by Jayaram.
The film draws inspiration from history and adds a dash of supernatural to serve us a crime thriller. After the trailer, many believed that this could be a redux of Anushka’s claim to fame, Arundhati. Instead, G Ashok turns it into a riveting thriller that works wonders despite its flaws. You are on the edge of your seat through most of the film, trying to understand if Chanchala is possessed or not.