Director: YG Bharath
Cast: Venu Thottempudi, Avantika Mishra, Venkatesh Kakumanu, Gayatri Chaganti
Duration: 6 episodes
Available in: Disney+ Hotstar
It is evident that director Bharath YG has put a lot of effort into crafting the characters of Athidhi. Ravi Varma (Venu Thottempudi) is a novelist who doesn’t believe in ghosts. He lives in a lavish mansion and takes care of his ill wife. Maya (Avanthika Mishra) claims to be a psychic healer, while Savaari (Venkatesh Kakamanu) is a viral YouTube influencer who makes videos about ghosts but is shocked after actually encountering a real spirit. If the three were put together in one single room, their conversations would be worth eavesdropping. So, director Bharath does just that. But the same effort isn't evident in the show's tension-building aspects.
Both Maya and Savaari take shelter at Ravi’s mansion one night, during a downpour. Set against a 300-year-old palace, an obvious breeding ground for horror stories, the story seems intriguing on paper. Some of it does translate on screen like when the leads argue over the existence of ghosts or struggle to give an end to incomplete short stories. Even if there is constant mention of tenacious ghosts throughout the series, Athidhi doesn’t manage to create any form of terror.
Take the scene where Savaari has his first encounter with a ghost, for instance. The locals tell him that when he reaches a particular location on the long, isolated road near the mountains, the street lights would dim and his bike would automatically stop. The exact events happen and when a ghost clad in a white saree walks past him at jet speed, a curious Savaari ventures into the darkness. Even if you want to ignore the fact that they went with the most clichéd depiction of a spirit, Savaari’s interaction with the unknown, which ends in an extremely dramatic close-up of the spirit, fails to scare you. Athidhi has every cliché in the book — the ghost leaves a trail of books behind it as she walks by, she leaves no reflection on the mirror and so on. Nothing is left to our imagination, and leaves us wondering whether the director set out to make an authentic horror piece or a parody of the genre’s best cliches.
The performances do compensate for the lack of terror. Even if you don’t feel the fear, watching Savaari fear for his life helps you buy into the narrative. His comic timings also leave you in splits. Likewise, Avanthika’s mysterious aura piques your interest. In the fourth and fifth episodes of the six-part series, the twists are revealed one after another and you get a glimpse of what Athidhi was meant to be. What looked like trivial information scattered in the background in the initial episodes suddenly begins falling into place and you see the clever detailing. It is also here you realise that the series cannot be boxed into one genre. Besides horror, it also has a message and could very well be seen as a social drama.
But all this genre-jumping doesn’t always bode well for Athidhi. Especially when you see a ghost unnecessarily unpack their flashback, which ends with a sermon on the six vices of human beings — lust, anger, greed, illusion, pride and envy. When the series ends, it leaves one wondering, are ghosts out to kill people anymore or exist solely to deliver mass monologues?