Adbhutham Movie Review: A fascinating premise, a sombre film
Writer Prashanth Varma place all his eggs in one basket — the premise — and the film has little more to offer
One scene in Adbhutham reminded me of Prashanth Varma’s Zombie Reddy, which did not quite work for me, mostly attributed to its clumsy ending, which was clearly indicative of an indecisive storyteller taking the audience for granted. In Zombie Reddy, the outspread of a plague that turns humans into flesh-eating zombies, is miraculously cured, thanks to holy water. Divine intervention, Prashanth reckoned it; confused writing, I felt it was. Adbhutham, also written by Prashanth, completely relies on the astonishing nature of the premise, and I was waiting for the film to pull its ‘God is great’ card (in Telugu, it might have sounded something on the lines of, ‘antha daivaamsa’) at some point.
Starring: Teja Sajja, Shivani Rajashekar
Directed by: Mallik Ram
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar
And in Adbhutham there’s a character, that of an elderly grandmother, who keeps referencing Ramayana and other tales from the Hindu mythology to shoehorn parallels between those epic tales and the film's story. At one point, a character even counters her usage of Sanskrit verses as a pretext to evade positing a logical explanation. She doesn’t precisely give one, but the story doesn’t presume we will believe whatever we are told either. Of course, it is a story that expects the viewers to suspend their beliefs, but it certainly respects them. After all, the film is titled Adbhutham.
If you felt Varudu Kaavalenu did a great job with dichotomising its lead characters by naming them Bhoomi and Aakash, Adbhutham takes it a step ahead. Teja Sajja plays Surya while Shivani Rajahsekhar plays… *drumroll*... Vennela. The contrast between their lives is underlined with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Surya is someone who gave up on his musical aspirations, whereas Vennala is passionate about pursuing her education; Surya’s late father (played by Sivaji Raja, the heart of this film) is revealed to be a very empathetic person who encourages him to pursue his dream, while Vennala’s father stands as an obstacle between her and her goals; so on and so forth.
Moments before both of them are set to end their lives, cosmic energy (well, the sky looks like one of those alluring 4K wallpapers) brings them together through the phone number they both share. Their relationship begins to grow but the distance separating them seems insurmountable and if you haven’t guessed it by now, it is revealed that they are five years apart from each other.
There’s more to this premise than just surprise, although it remains the writing’s primary objective. It’s all about how past and future feed off of each other, and it works at multiple instances in the second half, especially by illustrating how Vennala has orchestrated some major events in Suriya’s life. All of them cumulatively add to the film’s larger theme: one can’t alter his/her destiny.
The film would have definitely benefitted from better acting though. Teja Sajja is on autopilot, shifting the levels of sadness with each scene. Shivani Rajashekhar, on the other hand, has a more lively character, but the actor sports a puzzled expression throughout the film. Be it looking at a heavy lorry crashing her car or simply typing a message, she has the same expression. Such limitations somehow hold us back from investing in these characters.
I wondered, however, why the makers did not have more fun with this premise though. There’s a sequence where Surya helps Vennala clear her examination, and although it’s overdone to an extent, I wish the film explored this angle in a lighter vein. That could have certainly resulted in better jokes than an agitated musician saying, “He is just DJ Snake, I’m anaconda.”
Despite all the flaws, Adbhutham is a story told with earnestness. While it may not completely work as the awe-inspiring science-fiction story that it aspires to be, the love story creates situations that hold our attention, especially in the second half. Adbhutham is definitely not a misfire, but it’s too sombre. Like the film says, one’s actions in the past directly influence another’s; I wish the filmmaker had more fun with its premise and that would have ensured that we, as viewers, enjoy it much more.