India has a dubious distinction of lynching people to death, and committing atrocious crimes against people on the mere suspicion of practising withcraft or black magic. In this backdrop, writer and director Karthik Dandu’s Virupaksha seemingly makes a commentary against these prejudices and superstitious beliefs, which stem from ignorance. Sai Dharam Tej (playing Surya) and Samyuktha (as Nandini) appear in the lead roles in the film.
Virupaksha’s story takes place around the early 1990s. In Rudravanam, a small Telugu village cut off from the rest of the world, a series of mysterious deaths occur. The suspicious deaths lead to strict impositions by the village’s priest. While these deaths seem to be triggered by the involvement of an outsider seeking revenge, there is someone within the village who is aiding the cause. When a city-bred Surya arrives at Rudravanam, his mother’s village, it falls upon him to save the village from a curse and find the person behind it.
The film is a suspense thriller, and true to its genre, the mystery and the revelations are thoroughly gripping. It is densely packed, thanks to Sukumar’s screenplay, and the lack of pointless songs that deviate from the narrative also helps. The sound effects and Shamdat Sainudeen’s cinematography provide a layer of eeriness to the proceedings. The film’s visual effects are also adequate, and all these departments together deliver a compelling story.
Unlike some recent Telugu films such as Dhamaka and Das Ka Dhamki, where the ‘twists’ were outrageous and offensive, the twist in Virupaksha was gratifying. The fantastic revelation at the end does not feel like you were taken for a ride, because there is a foreshadowing in the very beginning when the character is introduced, if you notice it.
The village of Rudravanam is extremely backward and the people here blindly follow what the temple priest says. As people who are not exposed to the outer world or do not know what cholera is, naturally they dread deaths caused by endemic diseases. In their fear over things which they cannot comprehend, they abandon their humanity and resort to mindless violence. Virupaksha makes a case against this barbarity.
However, the politics of the film becomes confusing because of the narrative, and the film’s message hence seems ineffective or half-hearted. It is not entirely supportive of science and reason, which is where Virupaksha falls short of being a great film. There is a lack of cohesion. How can one make a commentary against superstition and ignorance by promoting the existence of black magic? The film also invokes harmful stereotypes of descendants of people practising witchcraft being “evil”. So, it becomes counterproductive to whatever the actual message the filmmaker is trying to convey.
As a courageous man who is on a mission to save his love and the village, Sai Dharam Tej delivers a convincing performance in Virupaksha. Samyuktha has a significant role, and she is adequate. While the art direction and other departments convince you that the film is taking place in 1991, the modern costumes worn by Sai Dharam Tej leaves you unsettled, and becomes jarring to watch.
If you overlook these flaws, Virupaksha, as promised in the trailer, offers an extremely engaging story with several thrilling moments.
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 producers or any other members of its cast and crew.