Karthikeya is an interesting mix of supernatural suspense and crime thriller with a soupçon of snakey vengeance thrown in for good measure. Chandoo Mondeti’s début has plenty of character development and a good storyline, although it does take a long time to get to the meat of the plot. However it starts well and the second half has plenty going on making Karthikeya a better than average watch.
The film begins with the unexplained death of an endowment officer investigating the closure of a temple in Subramanyapuram, although his inquiry seems to be completely unofficial. Shankar (Raja Ravindra) has time to make a final phone call before his death, but naturally hasn’t actually managed to finish his report detailing what’s behind the mystery of the temple before calling his friend. Doesn’t anyone in these films ever realize that boasting about their achievements before actually completing them is a surefire way to ensure they aren’t going to make it to the end of the movie? Especially when there are eavesdropping snakes to consider!
Having set the scene for a mystery thriller, the film then moves away from the story of the temple to introduce Karthik (Nikhil Siddharth) and his family. Karthik is a medical student who puts his faith in science and has no hesitation in spending the night in a haunted mortuary to prove that there is nothing supernatural going on. However when his superstitious mother (Tulasi) calls to report that his horoscope has him meeting a girl who will bring him luck, despite his skepticism Karthik keeps his eyes peeled and pays attention when he meets Valli (Swati Reddy) on campus. I like Karthik’s combination of respect for his mother’s beliefs with a scientific curiosity that drives him to find an answer to every question. He seems more normal and down to earth than most heroes and his tendency to reach for reason makes him a likeable and possibly a rather more intelligent character, despite his rather inane approach to romance.
As in many Telugu films the romance isn’t well handled, and the heroine has little more to do than apply the usual romance formula.
Step One – reject the guy
Step Two – see him in a better light and reconsider
Step Three – fall for the guy and declare your undying love
Swati does all of that perfectly well, but I was hoping for a little more given that her character is a dental student who should know better. Swati and Nikhil have a sweet camaraderie but no romantic sizzle and appear more like friends than lovers for most of the film. However, given that the focus of the story is the temple mystery this is perhaps for the best since the romance really adds little to the plot and is fairly irrelevant at the end of the day.
The story behind the temple is explained using a series of beautiful drawings that detail the building of the temple and the subsequent miracle that occurred on the full moon night of Karthika month. However the mystery started the previous year when one of the temple trustees collapsed during the annual ceremony and a few days later two lovers were found dead in the temple with snake bites. Rumours then began about strange noises and the death of the chief priest was the final straw resulting in the closure of the temple.
Kathik and his friends are sent to Subramanyapuram for a medical camp and end up staying in the temple trustee’s bungalow – a grand building in the forest with an imposing five headed snake sculpture on the top. The mystery is just the thing to keep Karthik entertained in between working at the medical camp and romancing Valli, despite his mother’s warning that he is in danger from snakes and the whole mystery involves a number of deaths from snake bite Valli is also on the camp since Subramanyapuram is her home village and her father (Tanikella Bharani) is a prominent village elder and astrologer who provides a good counter for Karthik’s scientific beliefs.
There is some amount of suspense as shadowy snakes are seen around the bungalow but unfortunately Chandoo Mondeti never develops any real feeling of menace which would have helped increase tension as Karthik gets closer to the answer. Although the police officer ACP Shankar (Kishore) involved in the case is also killed, his death is over very quickly and isn’t used to increase the suspense either. However the plot itself is more realistic than usual and even the dodgy science has some basis in fact even if it’s not completely believable. Chandoo Mondeti also includes some social issues including female infanticide and the shonky practices of fake spiritual leaders, blending them well into the plot and avoiding too moralistic a stance.
Nikhil is good as Karthik and balances his scientific beliefs with respect for the village traditions well. Satya and Praveen have small roles as his friends and provide most of the comedy which is less slapstick and more successful than usual. The rest of the support cast are also good, including Jogi Naidu as the temple handyman and Rao Ramesh as the Head of the Endowments office. There are no big song and dance numbers, with most of the songs used to show the developing romance between Karthik and Valli, however they fit well into the narrative and are generally enjoyable too.
Overall Karthikeya is a good story that could have done with a little more suspense but still keeps enough tension in the plot to keep it interesting right to the end. A few more snakes and less romance would have helped, but I could say that of most films really, and the CGI works well here to make the snake moments work well. Definitely worth a watch for an interesting mix of supernatural and murder mystery along with some good performances and clever use of science. 4 stars.