Vishwak Sen in Gaami
Vishwak Sen in GaamiYouTube/UV Creations

Gaami review: Vishwak Sen’s genre-bending sci-fi thriller is a gripping watch

‘Gaami’, the directorial debut of Vidyadhar Kagita, frames itself as an occult thriller, before blending into science fiction, body horror, and a social issue drama, all with quite a bit of technical finesse.
Gaami (Telugu)(3.5 / 5)

Gaami, the debut feature film of director Vidyadhar Kagita, bears an eerie, almost other-wordly atmosphere throughout its runtime. There are always scary things we don’t quite understand lurking underneath – whether we’re looking at a dangerous trek through the Himalayas, an illegal human experimentation facility, or an ordinary village in Andhra Pradesh. Gaami frames itself as an occult thriller, before blending into science fiction, body horror, and a social issue drama, all with quite a bit of technical finesse. 

The film begins in Haridwar, with the story of a trainee aghora (a Hindu Shaivite ascetic) called Shankar (Vishwak Sen). It then glides back and forth between the stories of Shankar and two more protagonists — a young girl Uma (Harika Pedada) who is the daughter of a Devadasi in Andhra, and an unnamed boy labelled CT-333 (Mohammad Samad) trapped in an unethical medical experimentation centre along the Indo-China border. 

Shankar is a brooding man, with good reason to brood. He is severely averse to human touch; he seems to suffer a seizure, his body turns blue, and he seems to nearly die from pain whenever he touches another person. He is deeply starved of touch and physical affection, and isn’t able to assimilate into regular society or form close relations. His fellow aghoras, who live at the ashram he was raised in, believe he is cursed and throw him out.

He is eventually led to a cure – a mushroom that blooms once in 36 years for a 24-hour period on a remote mountain in the Himalayas. Shankar has 15 days to get there and take the cure, or he’ll have to grow old lonely and friendless. Jahnavi (Chandini Chowdary), a medical researcher who also wants to study the mushrooms, accompanies him through the onerous journey. 

Gaami deftly flits through the three protagonists’ lives, often following the pace of a TV series, with cliffhanger-like cuts. They’re all facing different, serious problems — the Devadasi system, electroconvulsive (shock) therapy in a misguided attempt at the regressive ‘conversion therapy’, and touch starvation. Their traumas also seem intertwined, and even if you figure out the connection early on, the writing and editing sustains tension really well. 

Gaami means ‘seeker’, we are told. Shankar is seeking a cure, but he is also looking for answers, to understand what led to his condition. He also decides to help out the young girl and boy, but while these children go through exceptional struggles, Shankar’s resolution comes a little too easily. The physical journey to the mountain is quite gripping, but the emotional transformation is fleeting and unsatisfying. It’s also a little perplexing whether it’s just the evil scientists in the film who mix up a few ideas about gender identity and sexual orientation, or the film and its writers themselves. 

In spite of a not-so-satisfying ending, Gaami is quite rewarding for the most part. The technical flourishes are exceptional – be it the cinematography and visual effects despite being a medium-budget film, the meticulous editing, or the constantly sinister atmosphere achieved as much through the soundscape as the imagery. The excellent performances of all three protagonists (especially the child actors, Harika and Samad) also make the film even more gratifying. Vidyadhar shows some great genre-bending writing and direction in his very first film, bringing in an unconventional voice particularly for Telugu cinema. 

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film’s producers or any other members of its cast and crew.

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