Arundhati is a wonderful revenge story with plenty of melodrama, over the top action and what appears to have been an unlimited budget for blood. Add in a heroine driven storyline with some excellent performances and it makes for a worthy addition to the South Indian Cinema Induction Programme.
We learn through flash-back that Arundhati was a princess of Gadwal, trained in the arts of dance and war. Her bravery even as a child was likened to the goddess Jejamma, so this was how she was known.
Her sweet and innocent older sister, Bhargavi was married off to Pasupathi, the evil and depraved nephew of the King, who enjoyed a protected status despite his raping and murdering ways. After he attacked and killed Jejamma’s blind dancing teacher, Bhargavi killed herself.
In revenge the precocious young Arundhati beat Pasupathi, tied him to a horse and drove him from the kingdom. Despite extensive injuries he didn’t die, but was rescued by a group of Agoras and learned to be even more evil, which we didn’t think was possible.
Having his vile talents augmented by the knowledge of tantric arts and by the possession of malevolent spirits, he returned to take revenge on Arundhati, fortuitously arriving on the day of her wedding.
Some excellent posturing and slashing later, including a take on the drum scene from House of Flying Daggers, Arundhati defeated him and imprisoned him in the palace, still alive but trapped in a fairly well constructed tomb.
Two generations later and there is a new Arundhati, who comes back to town for her marriage. Pasupathi is now an evil spirit, confined in his grave in the ruined fort by various amulets and prayers which prevent his escape. He uses the influx of naive newcomers to try and break free of his prison. He tricks a young couple into entering the fortress where one disappears and the other becomes insane. Attempts by the mad man to break open the grave are thwarted, and he ends up being chained up in the village. Pasupathi is able to lock doors and move objects to try and kill Arundhati’s father, but luckily can’t use the same tactics to escape.
Just as an aside to all heroines and disposable sidekicks – if you go into a building and have to break cobwebs which are thick enough to block your way, there is a very good chance that the friend you are looking for is not actually there, since otherwise there would already be a path of broken cobwebs – just a suggestion!
Eventually and inevitably Pasupathi manages to break free and torments Arundhati. She now has to come up with a way to vanquish this evil spirit for good, otherwise he will claim her as his wife and all of her family will die. She has some help in the form of a Muslim fakir who seems to be pretty well unstoppable, which is just as well as there are many attempts on his life! Sadly he is pretty inept at passing on the simple instructions he was given to stop Pasupathi or the second half might have ended much sooner. Everyone else who tries to help her dies – usually in very gruesome and bloody ways! Did we mention this film had an exceptional gore and blood budget? The heavy-breathing Pasupathi manages get Arundhati exactly where he wants her – but will he succeed in his evil plans of rape and revenge? Will Arundhati remember her brave heritage and triumph over her immortal adversary?
Anushka excels in her double role as both the modern day Arundhati and the warrior princess. In Jejamma mode she is masterful and determined, while in the modern day avatar Anushka manages very well to convey the despair and madness as Pasupathi torments Arundhati with images of her family’s fate. She carries the film, and manages to be compelling, beautiful and convincing. However, there are some scenes later in the film that drag on for far too long. There is really only so much whimpering and scrambling that Anushka can do in her modern day character before the impact of her reactions fades. The young actress Divya Nagesh who played the young princess Arundhati was a delight to watch as she faced down the original Pasupathi. Sonu Sood appeared to revel in his role and conveyed the total depravity of his character with great gusto and much eye twitching madness. He seemed to be having such a great time as the completely evil Pasupathi and we just love him in this total manic mode! There is a downside to this wholehearted effort. He is just having too much fun and it detracts enormously from the characterisation. In some scenes he looks like he is barely restraining laughter and as a result Pasupathi just isn’t really evil enough to be truly frightening. As the second half was quite drawn out and hinged on Arundhati’s fear of Pasupathi, the lack of real menace did make the film feel overly long and the uneven pace was jarring. Sayaji Shinde puts in a very credible performance as the knowledgeable fakir, and we loved seeing Manorama as the old servant who fills in the back story for modern day Arundhati and us.
The music is well integrated into the drama, and all songs serve a purpose. The cinematography is excellent and both the set and costume design really enhance the story. The special effects are for the most part used well, but there is a tendency to overdo things. The blood and gore team were especially enthusiastic!
The novel (to us) use of death by coconut was dramatic but repetitive and once again, key scenes dragged on a bit too long to sustain the drama. The climax of the film seems to stop and start. Modern day Arundhati had to scramble around crying and panicking for ages until the two storylines started to piece together for the conclusion. We theorised that the director still had a couple of days and half the blood budget left to use and decided to just go for it. The ending is bloody and violent and yet uplifting once it really gets going.
Heather says: I loved this film. The two leads are fantastic and the child princess Arundhati does a really good job for such a young actress. The story is very heavily focused on Anushka, and this is probably one of the film’s flaws in that the other characters don’t ever really engage us. Sonu Sood is totally manic, which makes for some great viewing but not necessarily the best approach for his character. His Pasupathi was too cartoonish to ever be scary, particularly in the latter half of the film where the heavy breathing began to become wearing. However, he was very watchable and certainly seemed to be making the most of his time in the film. There were a few too many plot points clashing with each other at the end, and modern day Arundhati was just a little too wimpy. But still a very watchable film – I give this 4 ½ stars.
Temple says: I really enjoyed seeing a tough yet feminine heroine driving what is for the most part an action film. Anushka is stunning in this, and deserved the critical acclaim and awards. I like Sonu Sood but his hamming annoyed me. It wasn’t really the role for a lighthearted villain and would have benefited from a more menacing performance. As it was, he reminded me of a character from an old TV series – Catweazle. You can go look that up and see what I mean! The film really is the story of the bitter enmity between Arundhati and Pasupathi so that lack of serious venom detracted a bit from the overall impact. The pacing was all over the place too – some scenes dragged on far too long, while others rushed through interesting bits of the back story. The modern day avatar of Arundhati didn’t get much to do apart from crying and running until towards the end of the story. But thanks to the amazing screen presence of Anushka the film is absolutely rivetting at times. I give this 4 stars – it would have been less except for her extraordinary performance.