Director – Ashok
Cast – Bhumi Pednekar, Arshad Warsi, Jisshu Sengupta, Mahie Gill
The mere thought of watching another Hindi remake of a south film is scarier than anything that Durgamati could possibly offer. But, for what it is worth, the new Amazon original is certainly funnier than all the Housefull films combined.
How did they think we’d react to a shot of a voodoo tray that appears to contain a fistful of Haldiram’s Aloo Bhujia, or an unbelievable moment in which one character blows a raspberry at another in the middle of a supposedly scary scene? Durgamati, a remake of Bhaagamathie, is the sort of film in which the ‘scary’ sequences are hilarious, and the attempts at humour are positively terrifying.
Watch the Durgamati trailer here
The entire thing revolves around corrupt politicians trying to frame an honest counterpart by concocting the most asinine scheme. They decide that the only way to eliminate Ishwar Prasad (Arshad Warsi) is by getting a false confession out of his former associate, an IAS officer named Chanchal Chauhan (Bhumi Pednekar). But what they hadn’t anticipated was that Chanchal, while being kept in isolation at a haunted ‘haveli’ (lol, what), would get possessed by the spirit of a vengeful woman.
There’s a subplot involving stolen idols, and some vague rambling about dynastic overlords, black money, and battered Hindu pride — all signs of the film’s pointed political leanings — but these threads are left dangling. Durgamati is more concerned with laying out its premise in excruciating detail, and then diving into explanatory flashbacks every time a character makes a revelation that is meant to shock.
Despite her formidable talents — she was simply stunning in Lust Stories and Sonchiriya — this isn’t a good Bhumi Pednekar performance. While she plays Chanchal/Durgamati with a straight-faced seriousness, literally everyone else is operating with cartoon intensity. Normally, it would be the filmmaker’s job to strike a tonal balance, but since director Ashok has proven his incompetence, Pendnekar sticks out like a sore thumb.
There are long stretches in which the actor, as Durgamati, launches into elaborate lectures about the character’s backstory — it’s like watching a terrible one-woman play, chained to your chair by Jigsaw. And on other occasions, as if to satiate your unquenchable thirst for Coolie No 1, Ashok peppers the movie with David Dhawan-style ‘comedy’.
Jisshu Sengupta is the only one who knows what sort of movie he’s in; but then again, he has Sadak 2 under his belt. He’s a war hero, and we thank him for his service. Ironically for a film that already has a talented Bengali actor in its cast, they decided that Mahie Gill should play the CBI officer Satakshi Ganguly, whose idea of playing a Bong is limited to messing up genders.
Karan Kapadia, meanwhile, plays a dude who apparently watched Swades once and thought to himself, “I could do this. With tattoos.” He alternates between being a cutie-pie, a trait that Ashok chooses to highlight with random shots of the actor stroking a bunny and striking dashing poses in a field, and an Angry Young Man. To communicate this point, Ashok simply has Kapadia yell all his lines.
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He films the simplest scenes in the most complicated manner — multiple cameras zigzag around characters as they make delirious speeches — and spells out every plot twist as if he’s a primary school teacher. And to think of the arrogance that must’ve gone into insisting that Durgmati should be 154 minutes long — that’s more than half-an-hour longer than The Exorcist, and roughly two-and-a-quarter hours longer than your average episode of Scooby Doo. The film is filled with ‘pardafaash’ moments, where characters abruptly pause the plot to cackle about their ulterior motives. Ashok thinks we’re all five years old.
His sensibilities are loud, tacky, and, in the film’s final moments, downright immoral. Durgamati is a bizarre misfire of Laxmii proportions. But since everyone involved in that film was so proud of it (and dismissive of all the negative reviews), there’s a good chance that they pat themselves on the back for this one too.