If an acclaimed cinematographer like KV Guhan makes his directorial debut in Telugu (his second movie as director), you can expect a reasonably well-made outing. He doesn’t disappoint. 118 is a crisp thriller, sans melodrama, dramatisation, overly-emotional haranguing or long explanations, characteristics that plague paranormal thrillers made in Telugu. Guhan sidesteps these flaws and delivers a clean movie. It is flawed, and even clumsy at times, missing out on minute details and tighter script-writing, stopping it from being the breathtaking suspense thriller it could have been. Yet, it is an above average movie by the standards set by mystery thrillers in Telugu.
Starring Kalyan Ram as Gautam, an investigative journalist, the movie raises our curiosity with a series of dreams Gautam has. When he stumbles upon one of the elements in the dream and pulls at the threads, he finds himself getting drawn into it deeper and deeper, almost guided by the clues in the dream. Soon, people start disappearing, motivating Gautam to search harder and plumb to the depths of a massive conspiracy that claims several lives.
In all this, Gautam is guided in spirit by Aadya (Nivetha Thomas) whose 15-minute cameo as a teacher and activist is a show-stealer. Starting from the mysterious dream in Room No 118 to the bigger medical conspiracy that has a lot of relevance in our times – profit-driven capitalism that drives medicine and its innovation – the movie offers plenty to the serious movie-watcher. Barring one romantic song, the movie barely has any distractions – not even the usual annoying comedy.
118 is likable because it uses even the character of its less-in-focus leading lady Medha (Shalini Pandey), Gautam’s fiancé, really deftly. Heroism takes a back seat and Kalyan Ram does a wonderful job as a journalist who trusts his ethics and instincts. The climax is not drawn out or exaggerated either and the story ends well.
Notwithstanding the intrigue, 118 uses lucid dreams as an easy fix instead of investing in better writing. The paranormal component of the movie adds less value (since it’s not really an out-and-out paranormal movie) and takes away more, considering that the angle it offers could have been replaced by a well-written realistic part too. This is a miss on the part of the director, who probably wanted to use paranormal activity/dreaming/spirits as an add-on to his story, which had enough going for it anyway, and could have been an excellent script on investigative journalism a la The Post or Spotlight.
Even the editing is sketchy at times. Sample this – at one point, Gautam finds a glass shard with blood on it, and while he is desperate for clues, he barely pursues this angle – the DNA. When eventually the audience realise what panned out, not pursuing that piece of evidence feels weird.
It also feels a tad annoying to see that Gautam is doing it all by himself. Given the deep-rooted scandal he is chasing, you would expect him to be more careful, especially considering he is close buddies with a powerful police officer. Since Gautam is driven by the need to find out the truth and not by the fame that could come by unearthing the conspiracy, there is no reason for him to risk so many lives and the entire story by going solo. It is also strange that a conspiracy of this magnitude is handled by henchmen who barely know how to do their job. At one point, a corporate tycoon at the core of the conspiracy asks his henchman to get done with the murder, clean and fast. The method chosen by the henchman – smash the woman into pulp, roll her into a carpet and drag it openly out of the resort room. If that is clean, you wonder what is untidy!
All in all, 118, despite its flaws offers a taut thriller that will keep you engrossed. That is in itself a success. It could have been done better with a little more thought and greater attention to detail. Nevertheless, it need not be trashed for those flaws.
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.