Cast: Bhumi Pednekar, Arshad Warsi, Jisshu Sengupta, Mahie Gill
Director: G. Ashok
He was just starting to get excited about new age Bollywood horror after cutting edge stuff like Stree and Tumbbad. Then came Laxmii, and now Durgamati, as a stark reminder that Bollywood horror still has a way to go.
Durgamati, crafted almost frame-by-frame from the 2018 Telugu-Tamil horror drama Bhagmathie, is presented as a clichéd melodrama rather than a next-level festival of fear as it tries to sell the horror with a message. The result is not a scary or relevant comment, as the social ills the film attempts to highlight are too familiar as main-screen thematic material to make an impact.
Writer-director G. Ashok’s narrative begins with the theft of a dozen rare idols in a span of around six months, even when brutal murders occur. Minister Ishwar Prasad (Arshad Warsi), who is under suspicion, announces that he will either catch the culprits or withdraw from politics.
CBI officer Satakshi Ganguly (Mahie Gill) takes over the case. In the course of her investigation, she is brought to the IAS officer Chanchal Chauhan (Bhumi Pednekar), an assistant to Ishwar Prasad. Currently arrested for killing her fiancé (Karan Kapadia), Chanchal has been taken to a decrepit mansion. Locals believe that the house is enchanted by the spirit of Durgamati.
The film would seem like an unusual conventional attempt to use horror as a vehicle to focus on the ills of society. The idea would have worked if Ashok had shown a certain amount of imagination in the script and execution.
Rather, Durgamati’s story suffers from jaded treatment. Despite an attractive start, the narrative soon falters under old Bollywood business clichés about a corrupt politician and his corrupt schemes, and how the powerful mercilessly exploit the oppressed for their profit. These themes, relevant as they remain, have been plagued by our storytellers for centuries. (Plus, anyone who stays in touch with the news headlines about how smart corrupt politicians can be will find Ishwar Prasad’s get-rich-quick scheme ridiculously amateurish.)
A sloppy narrative soon loses focus on what the film originally sold for: a horror thriller. As the story progresses, the plot falls apart on all sides. Stray ‘scary’ scenes are too pedestrian to be scary. You know that a horror movie does not work when what is displayed on the screen fails to get your attention.
Erratic storytelling affects the characters and, in turn, the performances as well. Bhumi Pednekar brings Chanchal’s spell to life with his expected share of tears and rolling eyes, while a high-speed fan aims firmly at his unkempt hair. She is disappointed by a ridiculous script, as are the other proven artists in the cast like Arshad Warsi, Jisshu Sengupta, and Mahie Gill.