Cast: Sai Srinivas Bellamkonda, Anupama Parameshwaran
Director: Ramesh Varma
The film’s protagonist Arun (Sai Srinivas) is a wannabe screenwriter-director. He wants to make a film on serial killers—a detail that is effectively intertwined with the film’s narrative. Arun goes from office to office narrating his story, only to be told that’s its too dark or off-trend. Were these notes autobiographical, received by Arun Kumar, the original writer, when he was trying to get his film made? Even if it isn’t, it is still an interesting detail considering the relatively lighter tone the film decides to begin on. And to make us believe in his knowledge on this topic, the art department covers his walls with pictures and newspaper cuttings of articles about serial killers—from the Zodiac killer to Manson to Jack the Ripper to a homegrown killer, it impressively covers them all.
Things start to heat up once Arun is forced to give up on his dream, and take up his dead father’s job as a sub-inspector. Another teenager named Amrita goes missing, and Arun being the binge-watcher of Criminal Minds he is, he quickly links it to a murder that happened a few days ago. This begins a chain of murders where a teenage girl is abducted leaving behind a gift-wrapped box containing the mutilated head of an Annabelle-like doll, followed by two days of dead silence that is followed by a mutilated body, not of a doll, but a human being’s. The scariest thing about the film isn’t the bodies or the so-called Rakshasudu, but the doll. With eyes poked out and head cut off, it is dangled at you like a ghost from your past. If that’s not enough, it even dances. Props to the film’s cinematography by Venkat Dilip and sound design, for they do help convert an average thriller to an almost gripping piece of cinema.
To the director’s credit, the film doesn’t capitalise on its violent setting. Except for a few shots of hair, transparent body bags, and barbed-wires, the gore comes from our imagination more than anything. We are inside some mortuary where Amrita’s, the second girl to get abducted, post-mortem is being performed. The doctor (Surya) who did it comes out all sweaty and he says to the police officials in the room that the procedure brought tears to his eyes. Instead of showing us something pertaining to the act, we are asked to imagine what it must be like for a young girl going through it, if the man whose job is to be around dead is broken by just recording it on paper. That said, the long exposure given to the scenes between the teacher and the students feels unnecessary at best and gratuitous at worst. I was also irritated by the way this accidental/new SI is teaching his more experienced higher-ups about serial killers and their MOs. It is redundant because it happens twice and it is uninformed because police officers know stuff like that, I hope.
Sai Srinivas’s act in the film is uneven, not because he changes in-between. No. He stays his wooden-self throughout the film. Which isn’t as distracting in the pre-interval scenes because it’s okay for him to look detached as a person doing a job he isn’t interested in. But things get painfully personal post-interval, yet he still stays the same. This is how he falters. The film around him changes and he fails to catch up. Anupama Parameshwaran’s Krishnaveni has really nothing to do with the plot and as a prop that comes and goes she is decent enough. The ensemble of kids do a very good job, especially the girls who play Kavya and Siri. Even though Vinodhini is right by his side, the best act to come out of the film is that of Rajeev Kanakala’s. The way his pain is snubbed and suffocated to give space to his job as a police officer and a dutiful husband is flawlessly portrayed.
Another great detail the film pulls off well is the way Krishnaveni retains her memory of this one particular auto. It’s perfectly staged, with a complementing BGM by Gibran, where we see her brain trying to piece the image together, rather than the end product itself. That said, the film has many issues. It gets rather reckless with the way the clues are thrown around. Shoba Raj, as the red herring, is so on-the-nose that he has a red pen in his pocket all the time. And the way his lewd acts are juxtaposed with that of a magic show is more revealing that the writer thinks it is. A magic performance isn’t where you hide something in a thriller, never. Even in the second-half, the final reveal isn’t shocking or surprising because they named the film Rakshasudu. They gendered it, so it is eventually going to be a man. And where is the hatred for that one-note lady superior coming from? Is she villanised because she is supposed to represent all those who criticised Srinivas’s acting and called his nepotism out? She does say, ‘Kastapadakundane SI aypoyav.’
Rakshasudu, a remake of the Tamil Ratsasan, is an effective title for a thriller based on a serial killer. The name already forces our brain to think horrible things and the generic nature of it lends it a sense of urgency and doom. Take the pedophile teacher for example. He is not the monster we are looking for, but he is still a monster. Thus, the film seems to suggest that there are many of them around us and it is only going to deal with one of them. Personally, I would’ve enjoyed knowing more about the monster himself. Other than the vague idea that fear makes him feel in control, we don’t know much about his process or psyche. In the end, he doesn’t match up to the monster that we’ve been building up in our mind. This is why the film, despite its solid ground work and meticulous detailing, feels undercooked and, ultimately, underwhelming.