In the game of life, Taapsee Pannu, who at level zero was getting coconuts thrown at her navel, has zoomed past several phases to emerge as a superstar. In Game Over, Taapsee proves yet again that she’s here to stay. Directed by Ashwin Saravanan, who shares the story credits with Kaavya Ramkumar, Game Over has released in three languages – Tamil, Telugu and Hindi. But the dialogues are minimal and it really does not matter in which language you watch the film as long as you keep your eyes wide open and take in all that’s there in the frame.
The film begins creepily enough. In December 2017, a young woman, who is clearly being stalked (and we watch her from the stalker’s perspective, the handheld camera adding to the discomfiture), is brutally murdered. And she isn’t the only one. Cut to one year later, we meet game developer Swapna (Taapsee) who lives with her caretaker Kalamma (Vinodhini Vaidyanathan). It’s obvious that all is not well with Swapna. In the average film, we’d have an annoying voice-over explaining what’s wrong with Swapna with some poor research thrown in. But Game Over doesn’t spoon-feed its audience, it wants us to step into Swapna’s world and unravel the mystery for ourselves. So, we see the problem from her eyes – literally. What happens when Swapna is confronted with darkness? Because we become her for those few minutes, we immediately become protective of the character, without brushing her aside as a loon.
Okay, we have a vulnerable woman protagonist who has gone through a traumatic experience. What could that traumatic experience possibly be? We don’t have to think too much to arrive at the answer. But what’s interesting is how the film treats Swapna’s character and her response to the incident. She neither dissolves into victimhood nor swings into an unrealistic avenging angel mode. The trauma is viscerally real. I suspect that a gender privileged viewer would watch this film very differently from a woman or a trans person who can entirely imagine the violence happening because they live every day with the threat shadowing them. I remember watching Kali (Dulquer Salmaan and Sai Pallavi on a nightmarish road trip) some years ago and clenching my stomach so hard for a good part of it that I felt unwell by the time the film came to an end.
Game Over doesn’t dwell on the details of what happened to Swapna, but we see the effects. Some, she spells out – it has been ages since she slept soundly. Others are left for us to catch – a confident young woman who once wore a polka dotted dress is always seen wearing long-sleeved clothes that cover her from top to bottom. The fear is heightened because Swapna is so relatable despite being a bit of a geek (or maybe because of it, when was the last time a heroine had a decent IQ?) – she’s independent yet rendered helpless by something as ordinary as a powercut; she is estranged from her family but falls back on her dependable housekeeper to watch over her; she has Wonder Woman in her collectibles and yet she’s so fragile.Taapsee externalises Swapna’s internal battles – the anxiety, nervousness and panic attacks – with such conviction that you are absolutely riveted by what’s happening.
For once, the housekeeper in a thriller isn’t deranged and walking around in a muffler all the time (though there is a creepy shot involving the said person which made me bite my tongue). Vinodhini as Kalamma is a caring woman who is Swapna’s stand-in mother. In an industry where supporting women characters appear and disappear before you register their names, I’ve always wished the talented Vinodhini had more to do in the films she’s worked in, having proved what she can bring to the screen in Aandavan Kattalai. Game Over gives her that opportunity in what is essentially a female universe where men are at the margins, trying to invade the safe space.
Maala Parvathi and Sanchana Natarajan are the other two women characters who play pivotal roles in the narrative. Elaborating on what they do would be a big spoiler but it must be said that the little story that the writers have built for them is beautifully moving without tipping into the saccharine. The quiet strength that the women lend each other is... well, it made me cry.
Those who are cued into gaming would recognise the significance of the small things we’re shown at different points in the film right away, but the strength of the writing is such that these aspects become clear as we go along even if you’ve never been a fan. For instance, the link between the tattoo on Swapna’s wrist, the name of the tattoo parlour where she gets it done, and the poster ‘I didn’t fight alone’ – it’s rewarding to work it out early but if you don’t get it, that’s fine, the film won’t leave you clueless.
Game Over is delightfully original in how it scares you. It’s surefooted in building up the tension, never becoming predictable at any point. The lighting and camera (A Vasanth) constantly create the effect that you’re being watched even as you’re playing voyeur to Swapna’s life. And that’s creepier than any gore (the film has its share of bloodshed but the camera doesn’t revel in it; we only see it in muted tones) that you can imagine. Even towards the end where there is a repeat sequence, the film keeps you guessing about how it will end. The background score (Ron Ethan Yohann) is suspenseful when it needs to be, without trying to manipulate how we must feel.
So, which genre does Game Over fall under? Is it a fantasy, like the name of its protagonist suggests? Is it a thriller where the protagonist uses her skills to her advantage? Is it an empowering tale where a traumatic incident prepares the protagonist to confront another with guts? Is it part real and part fantasy? Whatever it is, it’s terrific. Go and watch this game changer.
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.