“Not as clever as the flaccid screenplay thinks.”
A politician, Ishwar Prasad (Arshad Warsi), vows to resign from his post if the government proves to be unsuccessful in recovering the stolen idols from the various temples. As his replacement, he selects a farmer’s son named Ajay (Prabhat Raghunandan). This decision doesn’t sit well with his political rivals as they cannot bear to see a farmer’s son joining politics. So, they put their heads together and decide to tear down Ishwar’s credibility with the help of CBI Joint Director Satakshi Ganguly (Mahie Gill). Satakshi, with Inspector Abhay Singh (Jisshu Sengupta), plans to interrogate IAS Chanchal Chauhan (Bhumi Pednekar), an ex-secretary of Ishwar, who is in jail for murdering her fiancé Shakthi (Karan Kapadia), who also happened to be Abhay’s brother.
Chanchal is shifted to Rani Mahal, a royal palace in Jhansi, Northern India, to avoid public speculations. Once at the location, strange events are set in motion. The weather becomes stormier, lights flicker on their own, apparitions are spotted at night, and Chanchal starts behaving as Durgamati, the Queen of the house before independence.
Right off the bat, G. Ashok’s Durgamati – The Myth, a remake of the director’s own 2018 film Bhaagamathie, rides on misdirection. It wouldn’t have been so noticeable, but Ashok overstates when it comes to establishing Ishwar’s goodness. It’s only natural human instinct to doubt something that seems too good to be true and a good thriller strives to engage its audience by keeping them on this hook, giving us just enough information to connect the dots ourselves or along with the characters. In Durgamati however, this overstatement leaks too much information, and that creates a ripple effect, and soon you begin suspecting other facets (murder, robbery, and so on).
Even if we put the mentioned distractions aside, Durgamati still fails to hold any significant value. It’s a pity to report how wasted Pednekar’s talents are considering her superb performance in the recent Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare. To be fair, Pednekar shines in quiet moments where she sniffles or broods or counters Satakshi. It is her act as Durgamati, with an echoing voice, that feels distracting as she delivers lines like a small kid performing in a play. This is in no way Pednekar’s finest hour on screen. Jisshu Sengupta, as usual, is good. Notice him keeping a straight face while conversing with a guard who has no hands. Another actor would have gone for a comic approach: over the top gestures, exaggerated expressions, but Sengupta maintains his sturdy character, allowing the scene and the conversation to produce laughs. Watching Pednekar and Gill together, one can’t help but wonder what would have happened if their respective roles were reversed. Gill is a more expressive actress (she amps up her character by using certain gestures) and would have better fitted as Durgamati than Pednekar, who looks more suited for silent, subtle parts. Arshad Warsi is perfect for should-I-trust-him-or-not type of roles, thanks to his affable face that could cunningly hide an evil within. He spends most of the time justifying his name, Ishwar (meaning God), by giving virtuous speeches. Despite his great performance, his amount of screen time was unnecessary to the story.
The production design is adequately nice. The haunted mansion is beautifully (and eerily) built. When Chanchal explores the place the first time, the camera stoops to a low angle to show off its majestic structure. When Durgamati, clad in a red sari, stands drenched in red light, she looks menacing. Since we generally associate red with danger, this color-coding helps in giving this effect. The problem is, you never know how to feel towards Durgamati, or you respond in a way not indented by the film. You laugh when it tries to be horror. You hide when it tries to be a comedy. You groan when it starts preaching. All of it leads to a The Usual Suspects type reveal, reaching the pinnacle of disbelief. The disbelief lies in its lackadaisical contrivance.
Where Bhaagamathie ran for 2 hours and 17 minutes, this remake has a runtime of 2 hours and 35 minutes. Nothing new is found except for an unnecessary song and some scenes, like the one in a mental asylum, which go around in circles. A dramatic gun-point scene and the final sequences are stretched beyond spirit. The extra minutes add nothing of significance to the story. Both Bhaagamathie and Durgamati share a cheap open ending that is not as clever as the flaccid screenplay thinks. Perhaps, next time try resurrecting a deft script instead.
Dir: G. Ashok
Prod: Vikram Malhotra, Bhusham Kumar, Akshay Kumar, Krishan Kumar
Written: G. Ashok
Cast: Karan Kapadia, Mahie Gill, Bhumi Pednekar, Arshad Warsi, Tanya Abrol, Jishu Sengupta
Release Date: 11 December 2020
Available: On Amazon Prime