Antakshari, directed by Vipin Das, is a Malayalam-language film streaming on SonyLIV. It presents a dark tale with the themes of unresolved traumas. We encounter social evils through several situations in the film that create a constant feeling of terror. The omnipresence of fear becomes prevalent in its collection of tales. And the makers maintain a bleak, mysterious tone throughout the narration that makes the film consistently engaging. It becomes successful in emotionally investing us in the characters’ lives while trying to showcase an unfiltered reality. The stomach-churning aspects make their presence felt throughout the film. It gives the setting an ominous vibe.
We encounter different narratives throughout the two-hour duration of Antakshari. In one of the stories, we meet a child from the lower strata of society who gets in a spat with a local aristocrat. The 20-something man riding on his motorcycle comes across the child and abuses him despite having done nothing to irk or elicit a strong reaction. The child who pursues this man to get his revenge gets heartbroken due to his inability to take action. While his journey begins with this traumatic set of events, we encounter another kid who suffers abuse from a local street vendor. Such abusive events leave a scar on her mental landscape and keep her muted till her adult years. Her muted existence stems from the bigoted mindset of people around her who expect her to accept such an ordeal in her life blindly.
In another story, we meet a family with a misogynist father and a child with a burning flame to rebel against him. However, since his mother married this person after her first divorce, she becomes submissive to any mistreatment she is subjected to. The reason for this appears to be the financial sustenance that her husband brings to her children’s lives. Besides, a single woman is sadly not given enough dignity even today. So she stops her son from rebelling as well. The following story is about a local cop who has a tick for singing antakshari and makes the inmates and suspects sing at his office. One day, he gets a call from a person who threatens him by humming a song and playing the police officer’s trick onto him. After an incident incites a further investigation of this person, the web of crime opens with several revelations. It turns the mix of tales into a whodunit leading to a mere chase.
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That is pretty much the issue with Antakshari. While the film presents different narratives within its duration, the film ends up being about this pursuit. The narratives have been given a disproportionate amount of importance. It creates confusion about what the film’s point is. If we look at unresolved traumas from the past as a common thread, the uneven timing allotted to every narrative makes the movie a tad weaker in the end. If we are emotionally invested in the story of a person getting his ambitions crushed by an egotistical, misogynist father, we would at least expect some kind of closure to his journey. The film invests so much time in this story and leaves it open-ended. Besides, it has no relation to the larger plot besides pointing out the social evil that pervades this small town (or society in general). Since the end primarily focuses on the chase to find the perpetrator, it makes you question the purpose of the existence of subplots.
It’s not that the issues being presented are not relevant. The end to the girl’s journey, who opens up after her long silence, is compelling and evocative. In a scene with the police officer’s wife, where a senior medical professional harasses her, which is considered a kind of behavior that she should accept despite the humiliation, the film puts the reality bluntly to make a point. While showcasing the caste politics prevalent in the police force, biting remarks are inserted subtly and impactfully.
However, if the purpose of the film is to showcase the craziness of a psychopath in the end, the subplots do not add up to the logic of the conclusion. Why does the film become about chase when it could have tied up its themes into a cohesive whole? What does it prove with its last shot, and how is it related to everything it says till then? That is pretty much what kept me puzzled after watching the film. 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 expositions through dialogues lag the film that they could have quickly done without.