Director: Rathindran R Prasad
Cast: Aishwarya Rajesh, Vidhu and Pavel Navageethan
Rathindran R Prasad's Boomika, produced by Karthik Subbaraj, shares several similarities with his producer's eco-thriller Mercury. On the surface, they are both films about a bunch of youngsters and the horrors they deal with when they enter an abandoned building in a hill station. They are both 'green' films in terms of colour tone and their inherent environmental message. And most importantly, both films use horror and the concept of a "righteous ghost" to drive home a critique of capitalism/materialism and what it does to Mother Nature.
Of these two, Mercury is most definitely the more entertaining film. It is thrilling and engaging and it's a film that would appeal to you even if you thought Greta Thunberg was a TikTok star. But Boomika works the other way around. As entertainment, it has little to offer. It is neither thrilling nor does its text come close to what its subtext has to offer. But the latter, sure, has its merits.
Take for instance the irony that's spread right through the film. In an early scene, a politician dismissively explains how irritating it is to deal with various environmental bodies to procure a non-pollution certificate for an upcoming villa project. As he talks, we see him using eye drops to fix what must have been the effect of air pollution. Few scenes later, the man in charge of this project is seen using an inhaler each time he's chased around by a mysterious power. The place where most of Boomika is set is called 'Roseyard' but the name is now more ironic than factual. And when their help, a man from the local tribe, is being picked up, our protagonist asks him to leave behind his bicycle because they have an SUV that's faster.
But my favourite has to be the time when one of the girls looks at her anxious friend and asks her to simply "breathe in and breathe out". In any other film, this would have been perfectly calming advice for a very stressful situation. In Boomika, it shows us how hollow these words sound in the context of the big picture, just like how we feel a sense of relief when jargon like eco-architecture and eco-friendly are associated with a project that's just as damaging as any other. It's a lovely touch and it turns the lens on us for the moral high-ground we occupy just because we shifted to paper straws from plastic ones.
These clever details are everywhere and we also sense the mind of a very visual filmmaker. So it's not by accident that he chooses a "blood red" SUV to take these outsiders into what's essentially a pristine green setting. Even abstract images like how the aerial roots of a tree are used to symbolise Mother Nature's curly tresses, show us how the film's message goes deeper than surface-level posturing.
But Rathindran struggles to sustain this subtlety all through. It's perhaps his need to simplify difficult topics but we get loads of exposition where dialogues are replaced with Wikipedia pages. A convenient ending too is then added to provide quick solutions to the various questions the film leaves us with. The confusions also arise from the film's need to tackle a few too many issues. So apart from the environmental messaging, we get tangents that comment on our failing education system. Without delving deep enough, we also get half attempts at how modern parenting is failing today's children. As a supporting point, we get a scene where a mother literally forgets her son as she's trying to escape from a troubling situation. And early on, we get the lasting visual of milk boiling without anyone to douse the flame. These are powerful ideas that work best as subtext but in the context of the film, they appear comically out of place.
And that's why we never engage with the film's main characters or their real-world situations. These characters feel like they are tools representing a large message but they seldom feel like real people. Because their emotions don't matter, we never worry for them either.
In terms of making, we get solid visuals (Roberto Zazzara) that take us beyond the limited scope of the plot. Abstract ideas get realised with reasonable ease and the film's best moments are when it relies on nature to tell its own story. But in the struggle to make what's essentially an art movie into an entertaining thriller, we see the seeds of a film that couldn't become the tree it wanted to be. But the timing does add to the film's impact. Watching this during the aftereffects of a massive pandemic, we don't need examples to doubt the wrath of Mother Nature. It's an effective reminder of how everyone's a shade of grey when it comes to matters of going green. As we share "nature-is-healing" memes everyday, here's a film that tells us that nothing has changed.