It is a Monday and what a splendid weekend it has been in terms of the diversity of the new releases. Each of the many releases did have something ro look forward to, and while a couple films did enjoy Box Office success, almost all films did leave a mark. And I couldn’t have asked for more! Just then, I decided to sneak in another release for the review on Monday. With that, I finished watching the new Telugu film Virupaksha, a drama that I had heard many great things about.
Virupaksha, a film in the horror space is coming from the Telugu film industry which has had an indifferent 2023. While the bigger star studded films have sunk without a trace, the smaller independent film have been the standouts of Telugu cinema this year. But what really did intrigue me about the film was the genre itself. Horror as a genre has been far too depleted or generic with its treatment post the massive critical acclaim of Tumbbad which for me is the pinnacle of the genre. The genre hasn’t quite been tapped in the Telugu industry either with Masooda being the last successful attempt at dabbling with the horror genre. And so I was really looking forward to Virupaksha, given its underlying themes of a folklore and mysticism which are welcome additions to the genre. So then does Virupaksha manage to impress, lets find out.
Story & Screenplay
Virupaksha follows the story of a man who visits his mother’s village after 12 years only to be witness to some strange occurences and deaths leading to an 8 day lockdown in the area. Will he be able to get to the root of these occurences? The story here is a perfect example on how to approach the horror genre which is so much more than the creaking doors and jump scares. It is about the atmospherics and the ambience of the drama which does build a sense of fear in the minds of the viewers. Tumbbad was that one film which had aced this approach by mixing the character motivations with bouts of mysticism in a template of a folklore. And that is something that you see in Virupaksha too. The screenplay standing at 140 odd minutes might be slightly on the higher side for a horror film, but the writing is so brilliant that you are invested in the drama right throughout.
The drama does open by laying out a context around which this folklore is built on. You see a couple practicising mysticism before being captured by a mob of people and burnt to death. This premise does set the ball rolling just so well. The drama skips timelines wherein you are introduced to the protagonist who does visit the village after many years. The writers do well in introducing all the principal characters and some nicely written subplots involving a budding romance in the vicinity before introducing the first conflict in the form of death of a character(the hints of which are thrown in, in the events leading up to the actual event).
The proceedings are engrossing and engaging wherein I did find myself being drawn slowly in the drama. The key ingredient of a horror film is to create that atmosphere of fear wherein the viewers would almost anticipate an event(or a chain of events) which is dreaded. And that is done just so well here. When the bodies start to pile up, not only are you invested in the drama but you would also start to link events which are quite mysterious. And you are invested in the journey of the protagonist who is on a quest to unravel the truth. This is also where the drama does get layered and textured without getting too conventional with its treatment of the supernatural.
There are multiple twists and turns wherein the writers are in no mood to simplify things. The first grand reveal is shocking but I did feel that it was introduced a tad too early(with my mind presuming that this was the final twist). Yet, the drama continues to have some tricks up its sleeve, only to let them out one by one, bit by bit. The events leading up to the final act are shocking and I did like how unrelated events were used as a foreshadow for the grand reveal. The final act is quite intimidating with a streak of innocence leading to a satisfying culmination. Yet, the final scene shall invite many more discussions. Overall, the screenplay here is brilliant and it is a huge green tick in the horror genre.
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are indulgent and make for a solid impact. Another important aspect of a horror film is its sound design. And that is aced here through its music and particularly the BGM that does contribute leaps and bounds in creating an atmosphere filled with tension and fear. The ability of the sound design to elevate a scene was something to be admired and studied. The cinematography is excellent, capturing some haunting frames in the most poetic manner. If anything, the VFX is a bit of a letdown but I can totally understand that, something which can be attributed to the budget of the film. The editing is sharp too. Director Karthik Varma Dandu does a magnificent job in creating that much required ambience for a horror flick. His ability to construct a world with undercurrents of a folklore and mysticism was a sight in itself. The direction was top notch here.
The performances are excellent by the ensemble cast. Soniya Singh as Sudha shines despite a limited screen time. Kamal Kamaraju as Venkata and Sai Kamakshi Bhaskarla as his wife are outstanding as well. Ravi Krishna as Kumar is unassumingly good and does a spectacular support. Ajay as Aghora, Brahmaji as RMP Doctor, Sai Chand as Poojari and Rajeev Kanakala as Harishchandra lend wonderful support. Sai Dharam Rej as Surya has a stoic presence and he shines particularly in portions where he is investigating the mysterious occurences. But the star of the show is Samyuktha Menon who is phenomenal as Nandini, a character that I was invested in throughout. It was so easy for her character to go overboard but Samyuktha adds levels of restraint making her character memorable.
Virupaksha is a phenomenal addition to the horror genre, a drama that comes with my highest recommendation! Available in a theatre near you and Highly Recommended!