Bannerghatta, On Amazon Prime Video, Is A Tame Thriller That Lacks Focus
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Director: Vishnu Narayanan
Writers: Arjun and Gokul
Cinematographer: Binu
Editor: Pareekshith
Cast: Karthik Ramakrishnan, Asha Menon
Language: Malayalam

Spoilers Ahead…

As Bannerghatta’s titles roll, you feel like you’re traveling in a car by road late at night. You’re immersed in an experience before you’re given any information. And like Don Palathara’s Santhoshathinte Onnam Rahasyam or Randuper, sounds and dialogues drive Bannerghatta forward. For most of the film, we only see one character, Aashiq (Karthik Ramakrishnan), a cab driver going through urban spaces. The first twenty minutes are more of an immersive experience for the viewer than just a way to get from plot point A to B. And Bannerghatta is interesting when it syncs natural images and sounds in interesting ways. 

For example, just when the film shows hints of horror, Aashiq drives into a by lane. Suddenly, the view through the car’s windows and the ambient sounds (or the lack of it) turn eerie. But Vishnu Narayanan doesn’t shape such flourishes towards anything specific. The horror angle is never explored or even explained. You begin to feel that the focus here is on how the sighting of a ghost is staged and not why the ghost really even needs to be in the film. The film puts experiences over explanations.

You could also think of Bannerghatta as a film that leaves in all the messy details from real life that slow down a typical thriller. In the usual thriller, when Aashiq realizes that his sister in Bangalore is out late at night and could possibly be missing, you wouldn’t see events for thirty minutes on the lines of: Aashiq calls up a bunch of friends, makes preliminary smalltalk, enquires about his sister, goes through a perfunctory conversation with each person before hanging up, etc. In Bannerghatta, we see a more realistic reaction — Aashiq battles between disbelief and fear — and he gradually begins to realize the seriousness of the situation. His problem feels real. 

This is shown as a superb reversal of the film’s typical visual of a moving car with a stationary Aashiq inside it. After he realizes that his sister might actually be in danger, the car has now stopped, and Aashiq gets out of it to run around and physically work off his desperation. In a more plot-driven film, such a minor character transformation probably has no payoff. But the tedium and a few similar moments in which we experience Aashiq’s existential tension are organic parts of Bannerghatta. 

And yet the potential of this detailed approach is exhausted early in the film. Large parts of the film’s screenplay are just one slightly dramatic set-piece after another that don’t build up to anything at all: there’s the ghost episode, another one with someone who seems to have lent money to Aashiq, his conversations with his sister and mother, etc. The film is detailed with the kind of detailing that makes a scene engaging to watch without helping you understand how it fits in with the film’s intent. For instance, we get a hint that Aashiq often lies to cope with his problems. And later, we learn that his sister might be doing the same with him. Is there a link between the two pieces of information? It’s not that every bit of information we get in a film has to matter, but it’s hard to stay invested when a large mass of these details seem random. 

Similarly, Aashiq is consumed by his missing sister for most of the film when a drawn-out ‘twist’ near the end shows us that he had been worrying about the wrong problem all along. The plot points in Bannerghatta are not connected by logic but by red herrings that lead you nowhere. The film sacrifices focus for moment-to-moment detailing and unpredictability. And because it’s all style with no central idea to focus on, Bannerghatta has little to offer beyond immediate surface pleasures that feel repetitive after a point.

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