Even within a predictable terrain, debutant Saikiran Daida treats his material with honesty and doesn’t compromise on its authenticity
Anthony, accompanied by his mother, wife Mary and two children, moves to Suklapet, after he bags a job as an accountant at a rice mill. His wife Mary is expecting another child. A few days later, multiple members in the household experience eerie events and suspect a supernatural influence. Annamma, a spiritual healer, comes to the family’s rescue.
Until Masooda last year, genre pieces in Telugu cinema have been far few and between. The reason isn’t so hard to decode. Filmmakers have been bogged down by the need to blend the ‘genre’ with ‘saleable’ ingredients owing to market needs. Debutant Saikiran Daida, with Pindam, refuses to let any distraction come in the way of his directorial voice and brings back the respect that ‘horror’ as a genre deserves.
Going back and forth across multiple timelines, Pindam stays true to the grammar of a conventional horror drama. There’s turbulence within a happy family as they enter a long abandoned house in a village. The more they try to deny a supernatural influence in the household, the scenario becomes creepier. As they decode the gruesome past of the house, the path towards a happy ending is clearer.
Despite not offering anything spectacularly different in terms of a plot, the director consistently keeps the film’s tonality in check and doesn’t resort to pointless exaggeration. The characters within a conservative middle-class family of five are established well. From the patriarchal grandma to a vulnerable housewife to a committed family man and their kids, all have distinct traits and identities.
Pindam, while providing enough fodder for horror junkies initially - through sound design, cinematography, production design and occasional jump scares - builds the conflicts within the family well. The core theme of the film - injustice against the girl child - comes through effectively with the family drama. Impressively enough, the director doesn’t excessively rely on the ‘flashback’ to justify the horror elements.
The mandatory ‘flashback’ is craftily integrated into the story - the director throws several hints of the victim’s past in and around the narrative and prepares you for the ultimate ‘reveal’. The scenes in the present-day scenario serve as a perfect bridge and provide a good context to the plot. Thanks to the sharp writing, the messaging doesn’t feel preachy or forced.
The horror tropes in the film work around the psychological aspect of a scene - the viewer is not always worried about the ghost but the situation that the protagonist may land in. Pindam’s major strength is its atmospheric buildup and the sustenance of tension, even while dealing with the obvious. It is mostly engaging, though few sequences feel like indulgent attempts to showcase the team’s technical finesse.
Saikiran doesn’t merely ensure a happy ending for the film but also gives it a juicy hook before the title credits, extending its shelf life. The casting decisions are another asset to Pindam. It’s relieving to see Sriram get a film that uses his experience while Kushee Ravi proves her ability to handle contrasting genres with ease. Eeswari Rao gets a solid part, with her bass voice adding appeal to the ambience.
The Balagam find Vijayalakshmi has a reassuring screen presence while the kids - Baby Chaitra and Leisha - excel in their portions. Uyyala Jampala fame Ravi Varma finally gets to reinvent himself as a performer after a flurry of stereotypical father roles. Srinivas Avasarala, in an extended cameo, bags an interesting role too. Manik Reddy, Srilatha do what’s expected of them.
Pindam owes a lot of its cinematic appeal to Krishna Saurabh Surampalli’s ambient score, Sai Maneendhar Reddy’s sound design and Sathish Manoharan’s contribution behind the lens. Their renewed approach to a done-and-dusted genre like horror adds to the film’s freshness. Both songs complement the narrative. If Jeeva Pindam as a song builds necessary anxiety, Guvva Gelichindi ensures hope.
Sirish Prasad as an editor, does the needful while dealing with multiple timeliness, ensuring a seamless narrative with enough surprises. Saikiran tries hard to do a balancing act while exploring perspectives of multiple religions in dealing with the spirit. Yet, within his limitations, what he’s achieved with Pindam is highly commendable.
Pindam is a sensible, atmospheric horror film where the thrills are effectively complemented by the drama and the smart messaging. The director and the crew’s technical finesse, and sharp writing help us look beyond the familiar plot and savour the viewing experience. Sriram, Kushee Ravi and Eeswari Rao hold the fort with assurance.