Cast: Bhumi Pednekar, Mahie Gill, Arshad Warsi
Cinematographer: Kuldeep Mamania
Editor: Unnikrishnan Payoor Parameswaran
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
My big takeaway from Durgamati was Kakorrhaphiophobia, which means the fear of failure. I had never heard the word before. In the film, it’s used by a psychiatrist who solemnly declares that this might be the issue with Chanchal, an IAS officer who seems to be possessed by the ghost of a long-dead queen. Chanchal is attacking people around her – including the psychiatrist who she raises off the ground by holding his throat. She is also speaking in Arabic, a language that Chanchal doesn’t know, and being yanked by an unseen force in all directions. A few minutes after the first diagnosis, the psychiatrist says that Chanchal should be moved out of the old haveli that she is stationed in because, he says, this place is no good for schizophrenics. The good doctor seems confused and clueless, which seems just about right for this film.
Durgamati is a remake of 2018 Telugu film Bhaagamathie, in which the beauteous Anushka Shetty chewed up the scenery as the IAS officer. I can understand why Bhumi Pednekar wanted to do the role. The film offers a female actor the chance to take center-stage and revel in the extremes of the character – Chanchal is an upstanding officer who gets a love track, a romantic song and a wardrobe of lovely colorful saris but she is also an avenging angel in the form of Durgamati who sits on a throne and wields a sword. Durgamati can flip a red sari around her with the same swift moves that Akshay Kumar did in Laxmii. I think it’s meant to be menacing. FYI, Akshay’s company Cape of Good Films is one of the producers on this film. Which had me thinking, perhaps Akshay and Bhumi exchanged notes on this sari-flipping routine.
Bhumi delivers with full sincerity, banging her head on walls, glaring and screaming, punishing herself with aplomb. But this is a logic-free story, which runs for a hundred and fifty-five minutes and no one could make it palatable. Director Ashok, who also directed the Telugu version, creates an almost frame-by-frame replica of the earlier film. Once again, the camera lunges, sways and heaves in all directions. Every tilted angle, ominous soundtrack and horror film cliche is utilized to create a creepy atmosphere. Doors creak open and shut, rain and thunder arrive when necessary, the wind blows exactly at the right time. But Durgamati isn’t just a horror film. It’s also a thriller featuring an interrogation led by a CBI officer Satakshi Ganguly, played by Mahie Gill. Satakshi talks tough and peppers her orders with Bengali. She often barks at her juniors: I don’t like negativity. The comedy inserted into the film isn’t particularly funny but this definitely is.
Ashok doesn’t trust his audience to understand the twists so he has characters helpfully explain what we are seeing. The actors aren’t going for subtlety either. Arshad Warsi as the minister Ishwar Prasad is gleefully hammy. Karan Kapadia plays Chanchal’s love interest Shakti. Admittedly he doesn’t have much to work with but his blank expression does little to lift the contrived narrative. There’s also Jisshu Sengupta, who like he did in Sadak 2, tries to rescue a painfully flat character with conviction.
Interestingly, Ashok’s name appears thrice in the film – twice in the opening credits and once at the end. Which seems one too many, considering that there is little difference between the Telugu and Hindi version. Both are an endurance test.
You can see the film on Amazon Prime Video.