Shakhahaari Review: An Immersive Thriller That Needed More Inventiveness

Sandeep Sunkad builds the perfect world for his mystery to unfold but his writing isn't crafty enough to capitalize on that. His lead cast, though, bails him out
Shakhahaari Review
Shakhahaari Review

Writer and Director: Sandeep Sunkad

Cast: Rangayana Raghu, Gopalkrishna Deshpande, Nidhi Hegde, Vinay UJ

Duration: 145 mins

Available in: Theatres

Mild spoilers ahead…

Almost everybody in and around Melige is fond of Subbanna’s hotel. Not love, but affectionately fond of. It’s got the charm of a second home for the folk of that small town in Karnataka’s Thirthahalli Taluk and it is almost customary - from cops, travellers to newspaper aficionados - to pay a visit to the ‘shakhahaari’ khanavali for a quick tea, kashaya or a quick-fix breakfast. It’s a place of respite, if you will, because come what may, Subbanna’s place is likely to remain the only constant in your life.

The man himself, too, is a tad bit odd but endearing. He still owns an old radio, the Aakashanvaani kind, that blurts out dulcet sounds. His other passions, aside from cooking and running the hotel, include dance and theatre and his evenings are dedicated to them. He might be middle-aged but his day isn’t made until he hasn’t stolen a glance from his lady-love. Subbanna is that congenial presence that everybody prefers around them because, again, the world might change but he is likely to remain the same all along. Now, picture the same man in the centre of a gripping mystery and the result is an immersive, effective thriller titled Shakhahaari.

A still from Shakhahaari
A still from Shakhahaari

Turns out, the suspect of a murder case has escaped custody and has gone on a frantic run, evading cops by a hair’s breadth. He has been shot in the leg by the sub-inspector in charge and isn’t, by any means, in the position to go far on foot. Perhaps the hotel could come in handy here? And if that were to be, how would a man like Subbanna, a man with no prior taste of crime whatsoever, take stock of the situation? More importantly, how will he slip through the goggles of some of his customers, who are only growing inquisitive with his now-strange behaviour?

The essence of Sandeep Sunkad's new film lies right here. His is a film that makes a sincere effort to build the world first as it prepares simultaneously to slowly lower us into the belly of the drama. Tactfully, the writer-director creates a milieu that’s not only conducive for a mystery but also for life to unfold at an excruciatingly leisurely pace. We learn that aside from Subbanna, the town’s sub-inspector Mallikarjun (played by Gopal Deshpande) too has high stakes in this man-on-the-run dilemma and if he doesn’t apprehend this man again, his pending transfer to his hometown might be stalled. Worse, he could lose his job or even end up behind bars himself. We learn that there resides a lawyer in Melige who bears a grudge against Mallikarjun for an old case and is now suddenly in the realm to make things tougher for him. We also learn that this murder convict has a different version of the truth and that Subbanna is his only ray of hope at this point. 

Leisure is certainly the operative word in the case of Shakhahaari because the film is resolutely very languid, at times even a little too placid. On paper, one gathers the subject matter to be tension-filled and fraught with anxiety but it becomes quite clear as the narrative plods along that Sandeep Sunkad wants his film to remain even-tempered for as long as possible. He instead wants to focus more on the mundanities, especially the domestic troubles of his other protagonist, Mallikarjun. And while his intentions are noble and fascinating, the relenting nature of his approach gradually starts to lose grip of the plot. A plot that has so much promise right from word go. We see that Mallikarjun is desperate to get done with the case because so much hangs on it, but the same desperation doesn’t somehow translate on screen.

A still from Shakhahaari
A still from Shakhahaari

Another concern is that Subbanna, the film’s guiding force, remains gentle as a character for far too long. That is to say that the writing almost forgets to raise the stakes for this man and eventually when it does choose to, we sense that the move occurs a little too late in the narrative. A terrific kind of collision, as it were, is unwittingly forged between the two men - Subbanna and Mallikarjun - and the viewer that something is about to give when they eventually come together. But that glorious opportunity is felt squandered by the writing because of its lack of focus or intent. Consequently, the climax sequence which carried the heavy weight of rounding things up, loses steam and doesn’t give the fitting payoff to our time and energy. Sandeep Sunkad’s attempt to consistently throw us off during this portion also doesn’t necessarily land, considering the sheer amount of shock value that exists in the scene. 

But that doesn’t mean Shakhahaari isn’t a worthwhile watch. As pointed out, the film is an immersive treat and the story is accentuated by some superb technical work, including Mayur Ambekallu’s punchy score and Vishwajith Rao’s crafty visuals. Alongside, it helps that the film has a solid principal cast to extract performances from, with both Rangayana Raghu and Gopalkrishna Deshpande bringing their best to the game. While the former sheds his usual comic image with great restraint and slips into his character effortlessly, Gopal Deshpande lends a new edge to a role that he has now played countless times. The rest of the cast, including Vinay UJ, Prathima Nayak, Nidhi Hegde, Sujay Shastry and several others, fits the bill perfectly. Had the film relied on a much smarter, more economical screenplay, the result would have been a far superior thriller.

Watch The Official Trailer of Shakhahaari

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