Directed by veteran director Dinesh Baboo of 'Amrithavarshini' fame, Kasthuri Mahal seems a misfit in the contemporary horror ethos
Last Updated: 09.14 AM, May 13, 2022
Spunky archaeologist Megha steals a 700-year-old diary from an abandoned house called Kasthuri Mahal, while on one of her excavation. Soon after, bizarre and eerie events begin to occur among Megha and her friends that refer to the same abandoned house and an unfinished love story written in the diary. As the ghost of that unrequited love lures everyone back to the house to reveal their possible connection to the house, things get spooky and begin to spiral out of control.
The very first phrase that is likely to occur to you while watching Kasthuri Mahal is "outdated". While that doesn't necessarily bring negative connotations, it is apparent throughout the length that veteran director Dinesh Baboo is unwittingly attempting a genre film that is supposed to exist in the '90s and not anytime later. Baboo, making his 50th film, is known for his work across languages but is particularly adored by the Kannada audience for cult hits like 'Inspector Vikram' and 'Amruthavarshini'. His nearly four-decade-long career has seen him churn out several impressive films, and when the filmmaker offers an intriguing horror film, one expects to witness at least a semblance of his past credibility. However, his latest offering Kasthuri Mahal is a sincere effort that ultimately comes off bland, uninspired, and least scary for a film of the horror genre.
One of the main reasons Kasthuri Mahal feels old-fashioned is its drawly setup. We are introduced to the ghost or the spirit almost right away but in an intermittent manner, for the director intends on etching the rest of the story and characterization first. Scene after scene, we see each character build association with the horror element as they grow confused and spooked but the slothy screenplay fails to penetrate the heart of the matter until the second hour of the run time. The entire first half of the film is lost in character exposition and unimpressive stylization, comprising a few jumpy shots and blaring sound effects, and the remainder of the film is left with too much to carry.
Another sense of familiarity with Kasthuri Mahal shows in the way it employs its characters. Megha, played by Shruti Prakash, has a penchant to find a souvenir from every ancient site she visits as an archaeologist and in this case, she has her hands on an alluring personal diary that dates almost 700 years back. There are poetic details of an unfinished love story in the diary, and when Megha and her friends land at the obscure and very antique Kasthuri Mahal to shoot an ad film, they end up irking the place's resident ghost. However, the film fails to create any kind of intimacy for the horror to breathe and evolve, let alone have any originality in its execution. Dinesh Baboo falls quite short in building an effective narrative and despite the efforts to embellish a rather weak and meek story, one is left wanting a real movie.
Shanvi Srivastav stars in a dual-ish role but has no material to play with. She does light up the screen every time she shows up but by the time she tries to flex even a little, the film meets a rather abrupt end. For an actor who is currently on the rise with tremendous expectations, it is likely that Kasthuri Mahal will down a lapse in judgment for Shanvi. Shruti Prakash is joined by Skanda Ashok, Kaashima Rafi, Kempegowda, and Akshar to make up the friend gang in the film but there's very little that's interesting or exciting about any of their roles. However, it is the very dependable Rangayana Raghu who curbs the film from descending further with his effective performance - it is surely evident that the senior actor had to conjure up a role out of his own from a script that fails to do any justice to his talent.
For a generation that's now attuned to an evolved grammar and ethos of filmmaking with respect to horror, 'Kasthuri Mahal' will be an out-of-date experience. The film lacks immensely in both novelty and execution and the audiences are sure to find the seasoned Dinesh Baboo's lackluster efforts a little surprising.