Director: Kiran Reddy
Cast: Bhargava Poludasu, Rakesh Galebhe and Poojitha Kuraparthi
It's quite possible that you're going to want to stop watching Kiran Reddy's debut film Gatham around the 30-minute mark. It's got every single problem I associate with the 'NRI Film' — the setting is cold and lifeless, the foreign actors appear barely employable and there's no plausible way you're convinced that America is so full of Indians that you can place a Telugu-speaking ensemble there.
If you add the frostbite left behind by last month's Anushka-starrer Nishabdam to these notions, you start feeling that Gatham too is just another pain in your Oklahomas. So, when a burly Indian character in his 50s looks straight-faced at his stranded houseguest and asks, "If you don't mind, my son would like to fuck your girlfriend," I spilt hot coffee all over my Florida.
But what if I tell you that the disappointment you feel for the most part is by design? Because Gatham wants you to believe that it is just another escape-room thriller. So, we meet Rishi (Rakesh Galebhe, sounding a lot like Vijay Deverakonda), who has to travel across the US with his girlfriend after having lost his memory. Somewhere along their drive, their car breaks down and a big burly Telugu man (Bhargava Poludasu, who looks a lot like Anubhav Sinha) appears out of nowhere to offer them bed, boarding and mango thokku in his cabin in the woods.
By the time the aforementioned proposition takes place, you feel buried in a hailstorm of slasher-film cliches. But Gatham isn't about us rooting for this young couple to get out of the clutches of this man, his son and his mango thokku. Using Rishi's memory loss as a narrative tool, it begins to play mind games with the viewer, who are just as clueless about what's happening as he is. And suddenly, the random Telugu dude Rishi runs into as he tries to escape, doesn't seem all that random.
Gatham is one of those films that's impossible to talk about without revealing spoilers but it's a credit to its makers that viewers feel like running around explaining the crafty deception of the film they've just watched. A lot of that is because the many twists in the film actually makes sense. So, when certain scenes appear to be present merely for shock value, we forget that Rishi too is a spectator, for whom a shock can actually be of value. Add some clever writing and our own biases to the viewing experience, and we get a film that makes us see past its many limitations.
And that's important, because the production really does feel limited. Right from art direction to camera work, you feel the difference a little more money and some time could have made. But then, you see an entirely superfluous BMW car chase, which randomly takes us away from a very basic interrogation scene and you're reminded that it's eventually a film made by a bunch of amateurs who just want to make movies for fun. And therein lies the charm of Gatham, which comes together better in the head than it does onscreen.
Of course, there are parts that resemble the overall finish of a Hollywood B-movie and then there are major leaps of faith you must take to stay with the film, but at the end of the day, it's a film that throws many surprises at you. I mean, if a screenplay can make sense of a line like, "My son would like to fuck your girlfriend," you have to give it to them.