Virupaksha Movie Review: A Terrific Thriller That’s Nearly Undone by a VFX-Heavy Climax

The film has the feeling of a Dan Brown-esque page-turner in its ability to constantly end scenes with visual hooks and visceral images
Virupaksha Movie Review
Virupaksha Movie ReviewFilm Companion

Director: Karthik Varma Dandu

Writer: Sukumar

Cast: Sai Dharam Tej, Samyuktha Menon, Sunil

After the credits of Virupaksha began to roll I was reminded of the short story “In The Avu Observatory” by HG Wells which ends with its protagonist pondering about how  “There are more things in heaven and earth, and more particularly in the forests of Borneo, than are dreamt of in our philosophies…..". And in Virupaksha too its protagonist, Surya (Sai Dharam Tej) is resigned to similar thoughts after visiting the village of Rudravanam - a village so remote that it might as well have been an untouched island. There’s nothing left for him but to philosophise and be reduced to ponder over his insignificance. It’s not cynicism as much as a submission to the smallness of man.  He enters the film to the tune of Chiranjeevi’s 'Supreme Hero' and in the end is defeated, deflated, and humbled by Fate. 

This is because Virupaksha tells the story of Rudravanam in the 80s where unnatural events and murders begin to occur. The villagers are forced to believe that there are mystical and tantric forces at play and the head priest (Sai Chand) orders that the village should follow a self-imposed lockdown until the mystery is solved. Surya, an outsider with loose familial ties to the village finds himself in love with a girl from Rudravanam, Nandini (Samyukta Menon). As the murders/deaths begin to pile up and reach closer to Surya, it falls upon him to solve this supernatural mystery. Who is causing these deaths? Does the seemingly simple and cheerful village of Rudravanam have darker secrets? 

Sai Dharam Tej in Virupaksha
Sai Dharam Tej in Virupaksha

To put it simplistically, the word Virupaksha translates to someone who can see without having the physical form of the eyes—the all-seer. At first, I assumed it would be another word used to glorify the “hero” - Sai Dharam Tej - but the film takes the title seriously because of how inconspicuous and irrelevant its protagonist is to the story it wants to tell.  He might as well have been called “exposition giver” and “clue finder” or as the film has correctly identified “Virupaksha”. He lurks around unable to influence the course of events (including the climax). He is at best fighting a battle he knows he’s going to fail and at worst a bystander despite whose efforts all the action unfolds. It’s the “secondary” characters upon whom Virupaksha is built because all of them become suspects in this mystery. 

The village of Rudravanam is filled with bright but suspicious characters such as - the righteous president Harishchandra (Rajeev Kanakala) who has told the village only a half-truth. Abbaigaru (Sunil) has had to bear the personal cost because of this “lockdown” and he resents the village and wants everyone to face pain similar to his. Similarly the priest, the aghora (Ajay), a girl Sudha who has an affair with another man without her fiance knowing, the secret lover, the milkman, and countless other characters. Virupaksha is a testament to how many key characters a mainstream pulpy film can establish when it does away with Hero worship. 

Sai Dharam Tej and Samyuktha Menon in Virupaksha
Sai Dharam Tej and Samyuktha Menon in Virupaksha

The first half of the film is a terrific set-up that gets the milieu and suspense spot on. Even stray shots of a dead scorpion, and a woman with an itchy ear all mount up to have some meaning. Debutante director Kartik Dandu shines in getting the tone and suspense right. The film has the feeling of a Dan Brown-esque page-turner in its ability to constantly end scenes with visual hooks and visceral images. But the scenes where Surya and Nandini fall in love make you groan and the song makes you reach for your phone in a film that doesn’t allow you that luxury. Even though a key twist relies on these portions these are the weakest sections in the film.

It’s in the second half when Surya goes on his fact-finding mission and the movie struggles with its myth-making that Virupaksha loses its grip on you. This film felt like it shouldn’t have to resort to tacky special effects or rely on a cheaply staged set piece in the climax to resolve its mystery. At a philosophical level, the film which looked set to make a bold statement against religious dogmatism conforms to it and reduces the impact of its suspenseful blows from the first half.

Virupaksha’s climax makes a story that could have haunted the audience for days into an experience that haunts you in the theatres only. 

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