The only way Taapsee-starrer Annabelle Sethupathi becomes watchable is when you keep reminding yourself that this is, at the end of the day, a Disney film that’s probably meant for children. But as a die-hard fan of both Pixar and Disney, shouldn’t a PG film also appeal to adults? That’s the feeling you get when you watch Annabelle Sethupathi, an extremely derivative horror comedy that’s never clever enough to double up as a spoof of the many films it borrows from.
The film is set in a fictional kingdom that’s supposed to be in Tamil Nadu. But with a mix of Telugu, Tamil and Hindi actors, the setting — like its cast — lacks specificity or demographics. Not that we should be looking for logic or realism in a film that expects you to be surprised with Jagapathi Babu’s involvement in the film’s tragic flashback. Spoiler alert: he is not a good guy.
With a hollow first half that’s just one unfunny comedy set piece after another, there’s a constant feeling that you want the film to just get to the inevitable flashback so we can move on to the climax. Instead of surprises, the film relies on getting its many comedians to lift flat scenes that rely — for the millionth time — on the gag of ghosts being invisible. Despite having the freedom to go anywhere, given that this is a fantasy, the film cannot come up with anything better than a family of ghosts, a full-moon night, a property dispute and a running gag about cooking.
All this is set in what looks like an experience hotel in Rajasthan, apart from some easy-to-spot green screen gimmicks. With the overall look and feel of a television serial, the film feels more like a lockdown-time compromise rather than an original idea that’s genuinely meant to appeal to people of all ages. Save for a nice idea for a love story between ‘equals’ in the form of an Indian king and a white lady, there’s not much going on that would appeal to the viewer in the film’s massive flashback. But with these parts being a Tamil-English bi-lingual, the only novelty here is the ease with which we see Taapsee lip-syncing her lines compared to the portions where she plays a Tamil character. With a role that required Vijay Sethupathi to do absolutely nothing, Annabelle Sethupathi adds one more name to the actor’s filmography and one more reason why there is such a thing as ‘Sethupathi Fatigue’.
A few good laughs and a production design inspired by a Manyavar advertisement barely make Annabelle Sethupathi watchable. With children being exposed to classic books and movies before they turn ten, a children’s film should never sound like an excuse anymore.