I can’t decide if there were too many twists or just the right amount of twists in this movie. Either way, it is way more enjoyable to watch the film without knowing the twists in advance, so DON’T READ THE SPOILERS.
I put in that title referring to the twists in the plot, but it also works for the meta-statement on what Anushka Shetty had to do as a follow up to her Bahubaali role. There just aren’t that many strong mature female role possibilities. And so she ended up in a kind of interesting combination of aspects, avenging woman crossed with possessed ghost woman crossed with high up merit based government position woman.
I kind of wish the film, and her character, had picked just one of those instead of trying to do all of them at once. I would have liked to see a deeper exploration of any of these aspects, instead of the superficial exploration preceding a shift. It was a wonderful showpiece for Anushka’s acting abilities as she shifted between all three, but in terms of a character that I could feel a connection with and care about, it was the other female lead, Asha Sarath, who got to slowly unwrap different aspects of her personality and let the audience enjoy getting to see who she really was without losing the earlier versions of herself.
I also wish the film had had a little more time with itself. Maybe it was just the version I watched (seems like there are a lot of varying dubs out there), but it felt very rushed. Just as I was settling into one situation, it would throw up a new one. Especially at the end, the first twist had my jaw on the floor, but the ones after that just felt like “wait, what?”
But the components of the film were excellent! Every actor was excellent. Asha Sarath was at first the weak part for me, but then as her character was investigated, I discovered that her performance was supposed to be like that, keeping her cards close to the chest while in public, but revealing a different part of herself in other situations.
Really, all the actors did that. Except Unni Mukundan. He was exactly what he seemed. But everyone else started with one public face, and revealed a second (and sometimes a third and a fourth) face.
But Anushka had far more faces than anyone else. And that is how she won. Which is how women often win (certainly how I win), knowing what the other person needs them to turn into in order to listen to them and believe them. She knew she was right, she knew her goal was just, so she did what it was needed to get to what needed to happen. The same way Asha Sarath did, men may be able to afford to go the straight route, the logical solution, the “reasonable” answer, but women have to be a little more careful than that.
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We start sideways, with a meeting between a bunch of high level government officials. A RAW agent is being tasked with finding a way to take down a state representative (right? He’s not Chief Minister, but he is a state level elected representative?). Jayaram, the representative, is a party worker who made good, and he just announced his political heir, another party worker. Which is a big deal, because traditionally those top positions are held by professional political families, not regular laborers who joined the party and work there way up.
These man in the backroom are clearly evil. The Chief Minister of the state is upset because a nobody from nowhere is taking political power, taking it away from the families that are supposed to hold it. The RAW agent is uncomfortable with this idea, but goes along with it. And the big unnamed national government worker does not reveal his motivations beyond wanting to take down Jayaram for getting too powerful.
It’s pretty obvious what’s happening here, a noble hardworking honest man is being plotted against by evil people. And then another noble innocent is brought in, his top aid who is now in prison for killing her husband. Anushka, looking confused and unhappy, being abused by Murali Sharma, who is both the cop taking her in for questioning and the brother of the man she killed, and most of all refusing to say anything bad about her boss.
But there is also a gap. We saw these men meeting, and now suddenly Asha Sarath is on the ground investigating Jayaram for stealing religious artifacts from temples. She claims to have “evidence” and bulldozers over anyone who disagrees, who argues that Jayaram is a decent man. What happened in between?
And there is another gap, why is Anushka in jail? We see pretty clearly that she was an honest dedicated worker, that she believes in her boss, that she was noble and he was noble and Asha’s efforts to convince her to give evidence against Jayaram is evil. But then, how did she end up killing her husband? What happened?
And we just keep getting more gaps in the plot. Anushka has a flashback to her romance, and clearly it was a love marriage, and Murali Sharma was supportive of their marriage, so what went wrong? Jayaram’s political heir is getting mysterious phone calls and meetings, what’s up with that? And there’s something about the water project that Unni was protesting when he first met Anushka, why was he against it?
But you can’t see the gaps because there is a lot of flash hiding them. For the super secret interrogation of Anushka, they have taken her to a remote haunted havali. She is staying there at night alone, and then during the day the rest of the team (lead by Asha Sarath and Murali Sharma) joins her. And strange things start happening. Furniture moves, Anushka stares intently at things, culminating in a full blown possession moment. Murali feels bad for her, softening, and brings in an exorcist. Who confirms that she is possessed through the items he leaves around over night. It culminates in the building almost burning down, at which point Murali and Anushka escape and Anushka is put back in jail.
It seems like this is the ending. Anushka was an honest innocent who stood up to Asha’s bullying. Even Asha wasn’t that sure, she put on a good face but then in private called her boss on the phone and admitted she didn’t think there was anything here. Anushka was possessed, yes, but the possession just served to give her the strength to get through this experience. She took on the mantel of a great pre-Independence queen and that helped her stand up to the bullies around her.
But it’s not QUITE right. Anushka was this weak scared innocent, but in flashbacks to her meetings with Unni, we see she was a strong confident government servant, why is she so weak now? And what is the point of this whole film if it will just turn into a possession movie? How can we be just DONE with that whole original plot set-up?
And so it feels like maybe we will have an epilogue that sums the whole thing up. Anushka is in jail, Jayaram comes to visit her, I am all ready for her to tell him the full “truth”, probably something like she found out Unni was betraying him or something and so she killed the man she loved for the greater good. And then a greater message about how women are always put down by “The Man”, and the ancient Queen is related to Anushka’s present self because they both were betrayed by the man they loved, and Asha Sarath was also being forced to hold the bag for her male boss, and blah blah blah. A little predictable, but good enough.
And then, TWIST! Jayaram asks to be alone with Anushka, and then they both immediately turn EVIL!!!!! Big snears, evil laughs, Jayaram even tries to feel her up! And Anushka is into it, laughs at him about if he wants “even more” from her. And we discover, ANUSHKA MADE UP THE WHOLE POSSESSION!!!! IT WAS ALL FAKE!!!! Just to get out of being questioned and stall the investigation.
(Sometimes I think a fake possession would be an awesome twist for this movie too. Kind of Rab Ne like, shy merchant Shahrukh could only truly love his wife when pretending to be a ghost)
And at the same time, Asha Sarath is jogging with her small daughter, a reveal of yet another different side to her. And while her daughter tells her a story, she notices the clues around her that lead to her daughter’s story idea, and thinks back and discovers that Anushka did the same thing! The whole possession thing was made up!
Now, this is kind of where I want the movie to end. It’s the right amount of twists, for one thing. We go from the investigation to the possession ghost story, and then twist back to the beginning and the realization that the possession came out of the investigation. And we also get a really interesting pairing of characters. Anushka who was always the “good” woman, the one who was loyal and faithful to her boss and sad about her dead husband and innocent and sweet and soft and big-eyed. We were conditioned to trust and believe her. Asha Sarath was the strong loud woman bossy woman, clearly corrupt and untrustworthy. But ending here would tell us that our prejudices were blinding us to the truth, that the strong bossy woman might be just doing what she needs to do to get people to follow her orders, and that the “sweet” woman is in fact manipulative and power hungry.
But then there is one more twist. We learn that Anushka isn’t evil after all, just revenge obsessed. Unni was right to protest the project when they first met. He discovered at the last minute that it was a corporate land grab and tried to stop it. Anushka went to meet with him, it got confused and violent, and suddenly Jayaram showed up and shot Unni. Anushka went to jail and pretended to be on Jayaram’s side but secretly hated him. She convinced him to sign over his hidden money to her, gathered evidence of his corruption, anonymously sent it on to the Centre, waited to be brought in for questioning, played for time with the fake possession and proved her ultimate loyalty, and then once Jayaram was sure he was in control, tricked him into signing all his money over into her name, and turned around and used it to start a foundation in Unni’s memory while Jayaram was arrested by Asha.
There’s two parts to this twist, first the basic narrative part. Which is just….not great. There were some clues dropped along the way, Anushka really did seem to love Unni, and Unni did seem like an honest man, so if Unni was against Jayaram, maybe there was something there, and maybe Anushka would end up feeling the same way. But mostly it really feels like it came out of nowhere. And happened way way too soon after the last twist, we barely had time to see Anushka as evil before we were seeing her as good again. Put in some more clues along the way, put in a little more time for us to think of Anushka as evil, and that might make it work. Instead of feeling like “wait, what? I’m confused.”
But the second part is the theme change. Suddenly Anushka is good again. Not just good, but a devoted avenging wife kind of good. A classic figure in Indian society. I’m not thrilled by that. I would find her a lot more interesting and inventive if she had stayed just a heartless corrupt money hungry woman.
But on the other hand, there is that idea that she had to do this whole elaborate thing just because otherwise no one would have paid attention to her. She had the option of being the grieving widow telling the police what happened. But she knew that wouldn’t do it, no one believes the grieving widow. So instead she went to jail, gained the trust of Jayaram, slowly gathered evidence against him until it would be impossible to ignore and then sent it in anonymously, knowing it would have to be strong enough to stand on its own, was taken in for questioning and used the possession gambit to get out of it and thereby gain Jayaram’s final trust, tricked him into signing his money into her name, and then revealed the truth having gotten everything she wanted. This is what women do, instead of going the straight-forward way, they find another way to get to their goal without you realizing it is their goal.