Antakshari, directed by Vipin Das, is a Malayalam-language film streaming on SonyLIV. It presents a dark narrative with themes of unresolved trauma. We encounter social evils through several situations in the film that create a constant sense of terror. The ubiquity of fear becomes prevalent in its collection of narratives. And the creators maintain a gloomy, mysterious tone throughout the narrative that makes the film consistently engaging. It becomes a success in emotionally investing in the characters’ lives while trying to present an unfiltered reality. The stomach-bleeding aspects make their presence felt throughout the film. It gives the surroundings an ominous mood.
We encounter different tales during the two hour long duration of Antakshari. In one of the stories, we meet a child from the lower strata of society who gets into an argument with a local aristocrat. The 20-year-old man riding his motorcycle encounters the child and abuses it, even though he has done nothing to irritate or provoke a strong reaction. The child who pursues this man to get his revenge is crushed because of his inability to act. As his journey begins with this traumatic set of events, we encounter another child who is being abused by a local street vendor. Such violent events leave a scar in her mental landscape and keep her subdued until her adult years. Her subdued existence stems from the great mindset of people around her who expect her to blindly accept such an ordeal in her life.
In another story, we meet a family with a misogynistic father and a child with a burning flame to rebel against him. But when his mother married this person after her first divorce, she is subjected to every abuse she is subjected to. The reason for this seems to be the economic sustenance that her husband brings to her children’s lives. Moreover, a single woman is unfortunately not given enough dignity even today. So she also stops her son from rebelling. The following story is about a local cop who has a tick to sing antakshari and gets the inmates and suspects to sing in his office. One day, he gets a call from someone threatening him by humming a song and playing the police officer’s trick on him. After an incident encourages a further investigation of this person, the network of crime opens with more revelations. It transforms the mix of tales into a whodunit that leads to a pure hunt.
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That’s pretty much the problem with Antakshari. While the film presents various narratives within its duration, the film ends up being about this pursuit. The stories have become disproportionately important. It creates confusion about what the point of the film is. If we look at unresolved traumas from the past as a common thread, the uneven timing assigned to each narrative makes the film a little weaker in the end. If we are emotionally invested in the story of a person who gets his ambitions crushed by a selfish, misogynistic father, we would at least expect some sort of end to his journey. The film invests so much time in this story and leaves it open. Moreover, it has no relation to the larger plot other than pointing out the social evil that characterizes this small town (or society in general). Since the ending focuses primarily on the quest to find the perpetrator, it makes you question the purpose of the existence of the subplotter.
It is not the case that the issues presented are not relevant. The end of the girl’s journey, which opens up after her long silence, is compelling and evocative. In a scene with the police officer’s wife where a senior doctor harasses her, which is considered a kind of behavior that she should accept despite the humiliation, the film puts reality straight to make a point. While presenting the caste policy prevalent in the police force, biting remarks are inserted subtly and forcefully.
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But if the purpose of the film is to showcase the madness of a psychopath in the end, the subplots do not agree with the logic of the conclusion. Why is the film about hunting when it could have tied its themes to a coherent whole? What does it prove with its last shot, and how does it relate to everything it says until then? That was pretty much what kept me confused after watching the movie. While the cinematography with naturalistic lighting is fantastic and the sound department creates an evocative journey, the plot itself feels disoriented. And also the unnecessary interpretations through dialogues limp the film, which they could have quickly dispensed with.