Cast: Puneet Rajkumar, Anupama Parameswaran, Saroja Devi
Director: Pavan Wadeyar
In a scene that appears almost an hour into Natasaarvabhowma, B Saroja Devi, who plays herself, showers praises on Rajkumar in a conversation she's having with a journalist, named Gagan Dixit (Puneeth Rajkumar). She's being interviewed for receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award and Gagan is mostly asking her general questions. She says she liked the 80s film Yarivanu as she starred alongside the then superstar (Rajkumar) and future superstar (Puneeth was a child artiste then). The two-and-a-half-hour movie is full of such references to Puneeth's star presence and his family's legacy.
This particular approach hinders the flow of the narrative as director Pavan Wadeyar doesn't use these moments to magnify the star behind the character that Puneeth is playing. In fact, the title itself is a reminder of the footprints that Rajkumar has left behind. He was called "Natasaarvabhowma" for his acting prowess, but, if Puneeth wants to fill his father's shoes, he should stop starring in such shoddily written movies.
Pawan's film begins with Ghanshyam Yadhav (P. Ravishankar), a Minister, being attacked by a posse of masked men. We soon learn that it's a show put on by the Minister to garner sympathy from innocent citizens. These are the kinds of things that politicians do, says Ghanshyam to Gagan on a private jet. Yes, this is also an interview. I don't know how Gagan interviews politicians, actors, and even writes articles about disabled people. How many beats is he covering? In addition to that, he carries a heavy camera – he's a photojournalist, too.
Gagan is back in Bengaluru after a stint in Kolkata. And the first big step he takes after coming to the city is finding a house to live in, with his friend Keshava (Chikkanna), a filmmaker. Keshava's introductory scene has him directing six different films. He's okaying the takes by looking at the monitors in his caravan. It's a hilarious setup that immediately falls apart as the joke is stretched beyond permissible limits.
Keshava doesn't want to rent a haunted house, but Gagan insists that they stay there, for he doesn't believe in the evils of the occult. Gagan's an atheist and Natasaarvabhowma has several scenes that support his belief. Somewhere later in the film, when he doesn't enter a temple in Kolkata, Shruthi (Anupama Parameswaran) asks him why, and, he breaks into a monologue about the positivity that stems from good people and good thoughts. That heart-warming dialogue reminded me of Raju's (Subba Rao) lack of interest in visiting temples, or offering prayers to gods, in the Telugu film C/o Kancharapalem.
Gagan's father, however, doesn't buy any of his son's ideologies. He emotionally blackmails him into wearing a sacred thread. And to keep his dad happy, Gagan gives in. The thread reminds us that we're watching a film with supernatural elements. The initial scenes that involve Keshava running amok inside the house when he hears somebody calling him in the middle of the night aren't as funny as they should have been. It's mainly because we've been seeing such tropes since the revival of the horror comedy genre in Kannada cinema.
Natasaarvabhowma's cast includes Prabhakar, Achyutha Kumar, Rachita Ram, Prakash Belawadi, and Sadhu Kokila, but none of them get the sort of screen time they deserve. Rachita is pushed to the margins and she only appears in a handful of scenes. And the rest of the actors are either roped in to fill up the blanks or heat up some comedy.
Vaidy's cinematography complements the mood of the movie better than D. Imman's background score, and I savored the Kolkata locations as much as I could. Natasaarvabhowma feels claustrophobic in the Bengaluru portions and it soars on the shores of Bengal as if it has suddenly got wings. Are filmmakers from the South discovering the charm of Kolkata's sunsets and parks now (I'm shooting a glance towards last year's Telugu movie Padi Padi Leche Manasu)?
Natasaarvabhowma is a hotchpotch of unentertaining missteps and the women – Anupama and Rachita – definitely deserve a more spirited thriller than this.