Within a familiar template, director YG Bharath attempts to tell a relevant story though the storytelling doesn’t grab your attention
Last Updated: 08.14 AM, Sep 19, 2023
Ravi (Venu) is a novelist who stays in an isolated haunted mansion with his paralysed wife Sandhya (Aditi Gautam). When he tries to reinvent himself with a new novel, he has a guest knocking on his door, a mysterious, seductive woman Maya (Avantika Mishra). An over-enthusiastic Youtuber Savaari (Venkatesh Kakumanu), who busts myths around ghosts, and a cop Prakash joins them soon. Everyone in the mansion is guarding a secret. Who has the final laugh?
A mainstream genre always opens a storyteller to a loyal set of viewers - it’s upto the latter to use the reach responsibly and give a relevant/unique spin to a familiar tale. Director YG Bharath draws your eyeballs with his intent - the horror show is a plea directed at humans to overcome the six arishadvargas (or six passions as per Hindu mythology) - lust, anger, greed, attachment, pride, jealousy.
While it may suck you in as a horror tale, Athidhi is a melange of multiple genres - beyond the jumpscares, it’s a survival thriller with an element of fantasy. That the pivotal character is a novelist himself adds an additional meta-element oto the premise. The setup of the show and its characters are quite fascinating on a conceptual level, but the same cannot be said about the viewing experience.
Despite ticking every box in the list with its writing, the team fails to translate it into a compelling audio-visual experience on the technical front. The antique pieces, the props and the morose colour palette contribute to the mansion’s visual appeal, but the tension is absent in the storytelling. One struggles to believe that the characters in the story are indeed trapped.
The sound design, the done-and-dusted horror film tricks - the visual effects, the exaggerated reaction shots - do little to draw you into its world. While the story keeps progressing at a decent pace, the ambience is overpowered by verbose dialogues. Like most Telugu feature films, only the lead protagonist boasts a convincing character arc, the supporting characters get a raw deal.
Athidhi has (only one but) an impressive twist, leading to a flashback, establishing the ghost’s motive. The character claims to be a messenger of God and is here to teach a lesson to opportunistic humans. In a self-centric world, where contentment seems an outdated idea and greed is the order of the day, the ideals of the ghosts are thought-provoking.
As a show, Athidhi isn’t devoid of potential but it needed more conviction in its execution. There’s little effort to push the bar - the team settles for well-established visual, musical tropes. The idea to tell it in an episodic format doesn’t always yield the right results. Yet, it’s a welcoming sign to notice Venu Thottempudi’s willingness to come out of his comfort zone. He is measured, alters his body language as per the varied avatars and fits the bill perfectly.
Avantika Mishra, in her comeback project in the Telugu industry, grabs a decent part and does justice. Aditi Gautam does what’s expected of her in a brief role. Ravi Varma and Venkatesh Kakumanu do the needful, but one senses their potential is yet again underutilised. Bhadram is hardly around to even make a mark. Among the crew, it’s the production designer Sahi Suresh, who gets ample scope to showcase his versatility, and he doesn’t disappoint.
Athidhi is neither intolerable nor eminently watchable - it is a modestly appealing horror show with a few silver linings. YG Bharath’s premise, Venu Thottempudi’s controlled performance and the production design warrant your interest. In a nutshell, this ‘guest’ is more of a passing cloud.