Director Deepak Sundarrajan must be one heck of a storyteller to have gotten the selective Taapsee Pannu to say yes to Annabelle Sethupathi. Or perhaps it was the name of the genial Vijay Sethupathi that did it. Whichever be the case, this is one film choice that will probably haunt Taapsee for at least a few months. There's not a single scene in this tepid mess that can salvage it, though Taapsee tries valiantly.
Vijay Sethupathi must do some serious introspection on his filmography. The actor has been sleepwalking through most of his recent releases, perhaps hoping that his charm will make the audience forget just how bad a film it is. In Annabelle Sethupathi, he plays Veeraya Sethupathi, a sort-of king in the 1940s who speaks exactly like Vijay Sethupathi in 2021. There's no attempt whatsoever to get into the character. But then, what is the character? What is the point?
Annabelle Sethupathi is about a family of thieves that ends up in a haunted palace where a few ghosts are trapped inside and cannot leave. I initially wondered if this was a satirical take on Bigg Boss. A bunch of people in a big house who cannot leave it, and have to perform certain tasks to get through. But that question stayed in my head only for a nanosecond because it quickly became apparent that very little thought has gone into writing this colossal misfire.
Taapsee plays Rudra, the daughter in the family of thieves, and is introduced stealing from people on a train. This whole sequence is explained, narrated and commented upon by Vennela Kishore, another thief who's watching the action unfold. Yes, it doesn't sound so bad when described, but you have to watch it to understand how poorly the entire scene has been executed and made even more laborious by the commentary.
Yogi Babu is Shanmugam, the ghost-cook trapped in the palace. Of course, we have to listen to the characters refer to him as 'panni vaayan' and other such epithets that stopped being funny a decade ago. The motley characters in the palace are mere caricatures who don't even provoke our interest, let alone our empathy or any strong emotion other than a desperate need for coffee.
Vijay Sethupathi enters the film only at halfway point, dressed in the finery of a king but doing little else. Even in an important scene when he's meant to emote and Taapsee is trying to act her heart out, he is stone-faced and delivers his lines in the same monotone. Like he is just as bored as we are. Radikaa Sarathkumar and Rajendra Prasad are wasted in their roles as Rudra's parents, while Jagapathi Babu glowers through yet another film as the snooty villain.
The writing, direction and performances are theatrical, making the film look heavily dated. The background score constantly attempts to make us believe something highly hilarious is happening on screen. But no, it's just the same tricks over and over again. The dubbing is also off sync in many places.
Annabelle Sethupathi is neither funny nor scary. But the most horrifying fact comes at the end. Apparently, there is a Part 2 planned for this. Oh dear.
The film is now streaming on Disney+Hotstar.
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.