In an industry saturated with horror comedies and thrillers with predictable jump scares, V Vignarajan's Andhaghaaram, now streaming on Netflix, comes as a breath of fresh air though most of it is set inside closed spaces. The film revolves around a blind government clerk in a library, a psychiatrist with a troubled past and a depressed cricketer. The title means 'darkness' and often, as a viewer, you're left searching for the light which will make sense of all the details.
Beginning with black and white shots of different people receiving phone calls on their LAN line, the film slowly unravels a series of bewildering events. Vinod (Arjun Das), the cricketer, senses a presence in his room that he's convinced is a malevolent spirit but why is it after him? Selvam (Vinoth Kishan), the blind library clerk, seems like a naive man but is there more to him? Dr Indran (Kumar Natarajan) is shot by his patient and loses his voice but what is going on with him? It is these questions that drive the film forward.
The non-linear screenplay is deliberately confusing; what we assume is happening parallelly is often not so. The film comes with the fair warning that 'the devil is in the details', and the viewer is required to do quite a bit of cerebral work, fitting the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. This is also why the ending, where everything is painstakingly explained in a long lecture, comes as a disappointment. When so much of the film lies in the showing, why fall back on the telling? It's abrupt and feels like the film suddenly dropped into Samuthirakani territory.
The runtime of nearly three hours is absurd for a supernatural thriller. It's too long a time to expect the audience to feel the pinpricks. Yet, Vignarajan manages to almost pull it off with the atmospherics, the unsettling camera that offers perspective within the frame (cinematography by AM Edwin Sakay), the slow, haunting music (Pradeep Kumar). Vinod's room with its reddish tinge and drops of blood, a green bottle chasing a man down the road, a lift striking terror as it comes down the building...you are curious all through to see where this is going, how it will all add up.
The writing sparkles in stretches; the murder in the theatre and the line of black comedy with which it ends, for instance. Your sympathy is firmly with the dying man but you also enjoy the humour. Getting that right isn't easy.
The film is also greatly helped by the performances of the actors - the leads are fantastic - including minor ones. Some are familiar faces and others totally new but they make you believe in all that's happening.
Only, by the time the film draws to a close, you're waiting for an explosive revelation and what you get is rather...tame. Like you ordered yourself a hi-tech smartphone but received a rotary dial phone instead. That said, Andhaghaaram is certainly an impressive debut and by far among the best of the recent OTT releases from the south Indian industries. Stay patient, stop figeting with your phone and soak up its rewarding moments.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.