Rathindran R Prasad’s Boomika, On Netflix, Is Beautifully Thought-Out And Mounted, But Hampered By Very Ordinary Writing

Sometimes, the very first shot can give you a good feeling about the staging. Here, it's just an empty street and a swaying door — and you get that feeling.

Director: Rathindran R Prasad
Cinematographer: Roberto Zazzara
Music: Chandrasekhar
Cast: Aishwarya Rajesh, Vidhu, Pavel Navageethan

Rathindran R Prasad’s previous film, Inmai from Navarasa with Siddharth and Parvathy Thiruvothu, left me with mixed feelings. At a purely conceptual level, it was terrific (as is his new film, Boomika). But the writing in the back-story wasn’t strong, and a lot of the staging made you feel the film had been put together in a hurry. Boomika is a much more elegant production, beautifully lit up by cinematographer Roberto Zazzara. Sometimes, the very first shot can give you a good feeling about the staging. Here, it’s just an empty street and a swaying door — and yes, you get that feeling. The bulk of the action occurs in a mansion, and the dark/bright play makes the frames glisten like freshly painted oils.

In that mansion, we have Samyuktha, played by Aishwarya Rajesh (she’s a counselor with an autistic son, but she’s not the “heroine”) and Gowtham (Vidhu), who’s the real-estate developer husband. They are joined by two women-friends, Dharman, the caretaker of the property (Pavel Navageethan), and a paranormal force that seems to be sending them messages — and a capital-M Message — using a dead man’s phone. For about an hour, I was quite invested. The relationships are not immediately thrust upon us. It’s left to us to slowly figure out who’s who. And Rathindran directs his actors superbly. It’s evident in the gestures, the pauses in the speaking, the silent looks… The dialogue and events, too, feed us information slowly, with some sophistication.

But after this slow-burn build-up, things go for a toss. It’s not the pace. Boomika is not exactly a horror movie. It’s more a movie about the horrors that await us if we… I cannot reveal that as that’s what that capital-M message is about. There are lovely little touches, like the fact that a man has to use an inhaler (he cannot breathe otherwise) — and we discover later that it’s a small clue. But while the elegance remains (some of the painterly effects are breathtaking), the interest levels drop rapidly, as we begin to guess the what and the why behind events: say, why so many people have abandoned this neighbourhood, or what is behind the car-crash sequence that opened the film. Such a strong idea needed much subtler (and sturdier) writing.

Spoilers Ahead…

And now, the mystery. At first, we get a woman searching for her mother who seems to have disappeared. Later, a little boy has to be taught how to say “ma“, as in “amma“. What is the deal with these mothers who are missing in person or in speech? Slowly, we get the answer — and it’s a big one. It’s about the mother of all mothers, the Greek Goddess Gaia herself, who is Mother Earth, the mother of all life.

Rathindran’s most brilliant conceit is imagining Mother Earth as a special child with special needs, who needs to be treated with special care. The message is delivered with all the delicacy of Thor’s sledgehammer, but I was enormously moved by the idea that we — that is, all of mankind — have forced Mother Earth to retreat to a small tract of land, while we continue to destroy Nature and plunder the the rest of the planet. Like many young directors today, Rathindran seems better at conceiving original ideas than in writing or fleshing them out. Someone needs to make a movie about that mystery.

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"Baradwaj Rangan: Baradwaj Rangan is a National Award-winning film critic. He has authored Conversations with Mani Ratnam and Dispatches From the Wall Corner. His long-form story on Vikram was featured in The Caravan Book of Profiles, as one of their “twelve definitive profiles.” His short story, The Call, was published in The Indian Quarterly. He has written screenplays and works for theatre. He teaches a course on cinema at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai.."
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