The protagonist of this thriller is desperate to trace the whereabouts of a serial rapist, whose eerie modus operandi is to use drugs to trap women in public places.

Ashwathama review A restrained Naga Shaurya anchors an inconsistent crime thriller
Flix Review Friday, January 31, 2020 - 16:30

Ashwathama, a story written by its lead actor Naga Shaurya, is a crime thriller that’s another addition to a long list of Telugu films where modern-day characters come with strong mythological parallels.

The film begins with actor-politician Pawan Kalyan’s voice-over reiterating the need for people to stand up to the injustice that surrounds them. The next frame introduces us to Gana (Naga Shaurya), supposedly an Ashwathama-like figure who will go to any lengths to protect his sister Priya (Sargun Kaur).

The film is essentially a thriller where the protagonist is desperate to trace the whereabouts of a serial rapist, whose eerie modus operandi is to use drugs to trap women in public places. He’s later equated to the hundred Kauravas rolled into a single human, while his grandfather is labelled a Shakuni. While that’s about it with the parallels that sound good on paper but are poorly integrated into the story, the film has a shaky start and takes time to come into its own.

When Gana’s sister becomes a victim of the rapist just before she is to get married, he is extremely supportive. However, time and again, he promises to be a protector, and the film stresses strongly on the importance of marriage in a girl’s life. The script doesn’t focus on the survivor’s trauma but rather makes it all about the brother’s revenge.

Ashwathama is at its best when it’s in the thriller mode. Gana’s efforts to trace the identity of the rapist are backed by mind games, action and chase sequences, which maintain the momentum of the story. Though some scenes are larger than life in execution, the sharp edits and the fast pace ensure an adrenaline rush to the viewer, also supplemented by Ghibran’s assertive background score. The pre-interval sequence where the protagonist rides a bike, jumps off buildings and runs hard in busy roads to catch the perpetrators, despite its gravity-defying logic, is riveting and leads us to a better second hour.

The chilling, creepy antagonist, played by Bengali actor Jisshu Sengupta, gets ample screen space in the later portions. The director goes overboard while exploring the mind of a psychotic character and how he misuses an important position in society to further his activities. The visuals are especially disturbing when the character looks lustfully at even the dead body of a woman. The element of gore isn’t easy to handle either when the character eats his dinner donning a blood-soaked shirt amid a bunch of men whom he has just killed.

Probably to add more purpose to Gana’s quest and to reinforce that the brother will always be a protector, there is a rakhi sequence squeezed in, amid all the tension. A quintessential twist to the antagonist’s character in the climax, the slick cat-and-mouse chases, however, ensure that the film ends on a high note. Surprisingly, the police force remains a passive authority throughout the film and a sequence, probably inspired by the recent gangrape of a veterinary doctor in Hyderabad, highlights the indifference with which cops receive complaints about a missing woman.

Although Ashwathama revolves around a socially relevant issue, it needed writing and direction (Ramana Teja) that is more gender-sensitive. The women are always shown to be under the mercy of men in the story. The romantic interest of the protagonist isn’t quite integral to the proceedings either. There are other issues too, such as certain popular locations of Hyderabad being passed off as suburbs in Visakhapatnam.

The film is anchored by a restrained Naga Shaurya, who rises above its inconsistencies with an impressive performance, further validating his growth as an actor. But it’s Jisshu Sengupta’s brilliant act as the antagonist that makes much difference to the result. His body language and composure add a lot of bite to his performance. Tamil actor MS Bhaskar in a rare Telugu film appearance lends his role a vulnerability. Actors Prince Cecil, Sargun Kaur, Mehreen Pirzada aren’t given roles of great value though.

Ashwathama isn’t a bad film by any means, but it did have the potential to be a much better outing.

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.