While the narrative structure is a close cousin to the director’s hit 13B, the layered writing, detailing and staging of sequences are top-notch
A revered journalist Sagar Varma is appointed as the chief editor of a newly launched publication, upsetting his professional rival Charles. When a series of newspaper clippings foretell his future, all hell breaks loose and Sagar finds himself entangled in several mysterious deaths. A top cop Kranthi Shenoy is out to find answers. How far will Sagar go to prove his innocence?
Time, destiny and karma are integral tools in Vikram K Kumar’s filmmaking oeuvre. Conscious or not, they continue to play a crucial role in driving his tales forward. After a couple of half-hearted misadventures Gang Leader and Thank You, his OTT debut Dhootha marks his return to prime form. He borrows a leaf out of his own supernatural thriller 13B to deliver a show that’s deliciously layered and riveting.
When we say Dhootha is a close cousin to 13B, it isn’t to demerit the show, but to suggest that it is a spiritual sequel to the thriller and by no means, less compelling. If television was the medium of communication for the victim in 13B, Dhootha uses a newspaper clipping to invite mystery. The show, in more ways than one, is an ode to journalism, while also lending a supernatural dimension to a police procedural drama.
While Dhootha has the structure of a big screen feature, the responsible use of the long format gives it depth. Like most supernatural thrillers, it commences with a series of mysterious events that puts the life of the protagonist in a spot of bother, followed by his quest to know the truth ( i.e. an intense flashback of a victim), ultimately leading to a satisfactory resolution.
Despite the familiar beats, the writing is clever and layered, packed with complex characters and well-timed twists. The creative choice to tell the story through the lens of a flawed journalist is its primary success. The dissection of Sagar as a character is smart. The director makes us look beyond his idealism and reveals his true colours gradually, like a tease with every episode. Yet, he has a conscience one can’t ignore.
Be it the police force, journalism or politics, there are two brands of characters in Dhootha - the untainted professional and the morally corrupt. The uni-dimensionality in the characterisation doesn’t deter its appeal because of the filmmaker’s eye for detailing and the absorbing subplots. Several characters that may’ve been ignored in a feature film - say the lorry driver’s wife or the Youtuber behind a paranormal series, have an identity of their own.
The filmmaker respects his antagonists; the villainy isn’t lazy. Beyond their lust for power, they get ample opportunities to showcase their intelligence, making the journey tougher for the protagonist. There’s a personality to the supernatural element too, the tension is generated through the emotion. But for a convenient ending, where the director falls short of ideas, Dhootha outsmarts the viewer at every step.
The tense staging of the material masterfully complements the writing - watch out for the scene where Sagar goes all out to protect his daughter’s life and the moment where Priya tries to safeguard herself from a creepy stranger. Even if the writing is meticulous, there’s adequate emphasis on making it a compelling visual experience. The innovative edits, focused background score keep you hooked.
A genre like supernatural thriller is a fine choice to offer commentary on an industry like journalism - even though the idealism seems far-fetched at times. It’s the investigation sequences where Vikram Kumar outdoes himself. At the risk of portraying Kranthi as a superhuman, you sense a conscious effort from the storytelling to understand the mind of a righteous cop.
The mutual trust between Naga Chaitanya and the director reflects in the execution, the performance is enhanced by the actor’s conviction, who surrenders to the material with sincerity. He takes just the right amount of creative risk with his OTT debut and wins the empathy of the viewer with a grey-shaded part. Priya Bhavani Shankar’s part gets meatier with time and she does a good job within the role’s limitations.
The decision to cast Prachi Desai as a wronged woman is surprising, yet it’s refreshing to see her back in action with an assured portrayal. Parvathy makes a smart choice with her investigative-cop act. While she has constantly played the strong, independent urban woman with grace, the role offers her an opportunity to test new waters. Ravindra Vijay is as formidable as ever, extending his dream run after Keedaa Cola and Mangalavaaram.
Pasupathy’s stately persona helps him be the idealistic journo with ease. Gowtham Krishna makes the most out of a juicy, impactful part within limited screen-time. Chaitanya Garikapati, Tharun Bhascker, Jaya Prakash, Tanikella Bharani, Easwari Rao are in top form. Raghu Kunche is perfectly slotted as the corrupt politician, though his character needed more meat.
Keep your popcorn tubs ready as you watch Dhootha - the supernatural thriller is a perfect mix of style and substance. The show, though thematically similar to 13B, is another reminder of Vikram K Kumar’s brilliance as a screenwriter and a technician, while he extracts commendable performances from a star-studded lineup.