Andhaghaaram movie review: Long fuse for a middling payoff
V Vignarajan's debut directorial has a seemingly complex screenplay that promises a lot at the outset only to fail in the end
"Devil is in the details," reads a title card at the start of Andhaghaaram and right away I thought it was going to be one of those suspense thrillers with clues and conceits that demand you play a guessing game with the director who toils to get one over you in the end. I was right. The film's non-linear screenplay is debutant director V Vignarajan’s only gambit to keep you away from the final reveal. He floods the screenplay with intriguing hooks, like the mesmerising black and white sequence in the beginning. Yet, they are all only partly efficient. The innate problem of such films is that the very anticipation of a twist spoils it. Also, the suspense here is not about the ‘who’ but mostly the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of it, and when the director resorts to telling rather than showing, there is little to rejoice over.
Director: V Vignarajan
Cast: Arjun Das, Vinoth Kishan, Kumar Natarajan, Pooja Ramachandran, Misha Goshal
Rating: 2.5 / 5
I couldn’t help but notice the influence Christopher Nolan’s Memento: the black-and-white sequence, the criss-crossing timeline, and the protagonist on a call with a stranger. There is evident aspiration here to create something as complex and exhilarating as Nolan’s mind-boggling screenplay, but in that attempt, Vignarajan bites off much more than he can chew. It is one thing to have your audience confused throughout the movie and compensate them with a rewarding closure, but quite another to just wrap it up with a long monologue explaining your gimmicks.
Still, some interesting aspects save Andhaghaaram even as it stands on the precipice of boredom. One of these is the film’s premise. On paper, the narratives of the three leads sound ingenious. We follow the stories of Selvam (Vinod Kishan), a blind library clerk desperate to make some money with his limited exorcism skills; Dr Indran (Kumar Natarajan), a brilliant psychiatrist out to avenge his family’s death; and Vinod (Arjun Das), a depressed cricket coach haunted by an unknown caller. These narratives are bound by a supernatural thread — a telephone that connects you to the world of the dead. Unfortunately, the potential of the ideas is realised only in retrospect as you ponder about what was amiss and why the film failed to deliver befitting payoffs to its engrossing setups.
The other saving grace is the work of cinematographer AM Edwin Sakay, who gives us some delectable visuals. Images like a desperate youngster running with a broken vintage telephone and a slowmo of him smashing the phone with a cricket bat invoke a sense of intrigue. However, upon deeper enquiry, these scenes serve little purpose. It seems like the story is written for the scenes, and not the other way around.
The performances of the lead cast do help. It is interesting how Arjun Das can be both angry and vulnerable at the same time. He is believable both when screaming as an enraged demon and as a whimpering little animal in his bathroom. On the other hand, we have the restrained performances of Vinoth Kishan and Kumar Natarajan, who succeed by doing and saying less. If only the director had done the same. Andhaghaaram strives to be all things at once. Vignarajan wants it to be a psychological thriller, then he embraces the supernatural, and he also wants to give us some 'message' about good vs evil. Thus, the film ends up being neither here nor there. The devil might have been in the details, after all; there was just too much of it.