Savyasachi

Savyasachi

I have a theory that Indian screenwriters search medical texts for the most bizarre sounding diseases which they then change out of almost all recognition, blend them together and then use this bizarre hybrid as the plot for a film. That might at least go some way to explaining why Vikram (Naga Chaitanya) is introduced as the surviving half of a ‘vanishing twin’ pregnancy, the inaccurate explanation of which is only one of the fantastical medical diagnoses described in the film. That may not have been a bad move if the idea of a separate parasitic twin living through his brother’s left hand was better explored, but Savyasachi doesn’t seem to know if it’s a romance, a thriller or a comedy about alien hand syndrome, and by the end I was no wiser either.

Naga Chaitanya does his best with a terrible script, Madhavan overacts like crazy and it’s not a good sign when the best characterisations come from Vennela Kishore, Bhumika Chawla (who is excellent as Vikram’s sister) and child actor Dishita Sehgal. The other major problem with Savyasachi is truly terrible subtitles which I would ascribe to using Google Translate except that there are many spelling errors. This makes it even more difficult to work out exactly what is going on, when even the actors don’t appear to have any idea. With so much wrong is there any reason to watch Savyasachi? Well, yes. The songs are good, the flash-back and family scenes in the first half are better realised, and even if Madhavan chews the scenery excessively his exploits as a villain are generally entertaining. So not terrible then and given the general incomprehensibility of the subtitles, probably a better watch if you understand more Telugu than I do.

Vikram is the surviving twin while his brother Aditya was ‘absorbed’ into Vikram during their mother’s ‘vanishing twin’ pregnancy. Aditya still lives on as a few neurones in Vikram’s brain and is able to express himself by independent movement of Vikram’s left hand. All this is described in detail by Vikram’s doctor (Rao Ramesh) and his mother Mahalakshmi (Kausalya) which is just as well as this mishmash of a number of different conditions does need a lot of explanation. However, apart from a habit of slapping buttocks and faces, Aditya doesn’t do much else until Vikram is threatened, when Vikram’s left hand suddenly develops uncanny spatial awareness and super-human reaction speed along with the ability to thrash innumerable villains. So, basically the usual hero ability to fight his way out of any given situation. Vikram even manages a bit of hero-style action himself, beating a group of students during a flashback scene at University, with his left hand tied behind his back. Just in case there was any suggestion that Vikram isn’t just as capable as his intangible twin.

The film starts with a bus crash that causes the death of everyone on board, apart from Vikram, and then promptly ignores this initial mystery for the entire rest of the first half. Instead, writer/director Chandoo Mondeti concentrates on developing a romance between Vikram and businesswoman Chitra (Nidhhi Agerwal), who has employed Vikram’s ad company Artihc to promote her company. Vikram is assisted in making his films by his best friend from school Kittu (Vennela Kishore) and Tenali (Satya) who are aware of Vikram’s ‘vanished’ twin and make allowances for the occasional bizarre behaviour of Vikram’s left hand.

Vikram and Chitra have a history together from their time in college which is shown in a series of flashback scenes. While at college, the two gradually begin a relationship, first as friends, but just as it seems to be developing into something more and Vikram was about to declare his love for Chitra, something happened and he vanished from college, never to be heard from again. Until rocking up to make an ad many years later. Despite this long separation, his sudden reappearance doesn’t generate too much reaction from Chitra, and after accepting Vikram’s rather lame excuses for dropping out of touch, the two rekindle their old romance. There isn’t much chemistry between Vikram and Chitra, but to be fair they don’t have many scenes with just the two of them together, and there is a fraction more sparkage in the college flashbacks. In fact, most of the actual romance happens during M.M. Keeravani’s catchy songs.

The first half also deals with Vikram’s relationship with his sister Siri (Bhumika Chawla) her husband (Bharath Reddy) and daughter Maha (Dishita Sehgal). This part of the film is better, and the family dynamic is well developed as Siri becomes annoyed and objects to Vikram spoiling Maha, allowing her to do whatever she wants, while at the same time appreciating the reasons behind her brother’s affection for her daughter. Bhumika Chawla is excellent as Siri, particularly in later scenes as her character has to deal with a considerable amount of complex emotion.

After all the family background and romance in the first half, the second half of the film totally shifts gear when Vikram returns from a trip to America to find his family has been targeted and his sister in hospital. Suddenly the pace picks up as Vikram struggles to find out who is attacking him, and what has happened to his family. Madhavan is rapidly identified as the villain here, but he plays Arun Raj with such cheerful bonhomie that it’s difficult to take him seriously. Arun also has an oddly weak reason for his behaviour that further undermines his villainous stature, so in the end I felt little investment in the outcome of their struggle. However, Arun does have uncanny ability to be able to find and follow Vikram which is explained by various cloning, cloaking and other electronic wizardry, which at least is slightly more probable than Vikram’s pop-up twin brother’s abilities.

Although the story struggles to keep everything moving forward together, the action sequences work well and there is plenty of energy in the confrontations between Vikram and Arun. While Vikram’s rogue left hand does take over for most of these scenes there is enough variety and challenge to keep them interesting, at least until Arun runs out of disposable henchmen to throw at Vikram. Chaitanya does well to keep his character even vaguely on track, but the uneven mix of comedy, action and paranormal doesn’t blend well, making Vikram appear like a fish out of water for much of the second half. Madhavan’s Arun is too one-dimensional to be anything other than a caricature and his scenery chewing plays into the cartoonish nature of the character. However, Arun is entertaining even if he doesn’t appear particularly villainous and the interactions with his servant (Thagubothu Ramesh) are amusing. On the other hand, Nidhhi Agerwal has little to do and really is just ‘the love interest’ while Vidyullekha Raman and Vennela Kisore play their usual type of characters proficiently and effectively.

I really liked Chandoo Mondeti’s previous film Karthikeya which had a much better mix of action and supernatural, but Savyasachi just doesn’t have a strong enough story and the various side-plots detract too much from the central action. This could have been a better film if the story had stuck to the idea of alien hand syndrome with a better realised villain or a more involved romance rather than trying to add both. This is one probably better watched on DVD or Netflix when you can forward past the slow and confusing set-up and get straight to the action.

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Karthikeya

karthikeya poster

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.