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Virupaksha [Hindi] review: Ah, love can bend the evil too – Beyond Bollywood

A promising plot but the Sukumar-penned Telugu ‘blockbuster’ doesn’t quite live up to the hype. The cinematography, production design though is top notch.

Rating: 2 / 5

By Mayur Lookhar

When was the last time that a female protagonist in a film is introduced as a chicken chor? There is this lady, face covered, popping in the middle of the night to steal a rooster. She is caught by the male protagonist but doesn’t flinch. Instead, she cautions him that the charging villagers will beat him to death if she screamed. The man lets the woman go.

Next day lunchtime, he senses the same rose perfume from the sarpanch’s daughter who is feeding the urban man the very same chicken. Soon he strongly pushes the girl to accept his proposal. Ah, our Southern Romeos come down hard on the desi Juliets. Romance is an integral part to this horror story, but a keen observer will never lose sight of the chicken theft.

Penned by Pushpa [2021] writer-director Sukumar, Virupaksha [2023] is a horror-cum-romantic drama that has reportedly made waves down South. Its commercial success prompted distributor Goldmines Telefilms to dub it in Hindi barely two weeks after its release.  

Helmed by Karthik Varma Dandu, Virupaksha travels from 1979 to 1991. One torrid night in 1979, villagers in Rudravanam burnt Venkat Chalapathy and his epileptic wife alive. The couple was accused of doing black magic and blamed for the deaths of few sick children. The woman cursed the village that come next Pushkar festival, the entire village will be wiped out. Seeing his parents burnt alive left a young Bhairava shocked. He vowed revenge and learns the dark arts, but the boy vanishes and is never to be seen again.

In 1991, Surya [Sai Dharam Tej] has come to Rudravanam to meet his beloved sister Parvathi. Tragedy strikes as Parvathi is among those who have died in mysterious circumstances. Now his ladylove Nandini [Samyuktha Menon], the chicken chor, is likely to die next. Surya doesn’t have much time. He must get to the root of this haunting before Nandini and all villagers perish.

Horror is a dying genre.  Often critics cite monotony as the problem. Truth be told, it’s not the cliched plot, but the representation that ails the genre globally. Despite the familiar plots, target audiences, like this reviewer, crawl their way to cherish the supernatural on celluloid. 

In Sanskrit, Virupaksha is a fierce form of Shiva. In Rudravanam’s context the Virupaksha here is perhaps one of the manifestations of Bhairava deity.  The Chalapathy tragedy moves you, and it is the thought of the retribution that haunts you. Unfortunately, much like its cursed plot, the screenplay, too, seem cursed.  The narrative perhaps has a strong local connect, but it’s difficult to see Virupaksha having a pan India appeal. Argh, pan India, that dreaded word.

The Telugu film has its moments but it fails to build consistent engagement. It’s like one scene grips you, and then it is followed by average ones. A 90s setting doesn’t necessarily imply to having 90s trope. What keeps the interest alive is the horror element, and the suspense.  For a horror film though, Virupaksha didn’t scare us one bit. There’s a positive consensus though on the technical expertise, where Shamdat Sainudeen’s cinematography, and production design are top notch. Virupaksha gives an immersive visual experience. The neat VFX, too, elevate the over all visual quality.

Though strong on technical front, the Telugu film suffers from weak direction and the underwhelming show by its male protagonist. Sai Dharam Tej is a popular name down South. It’s our introduction to him. Unfortunately, the first impression isn’t great. The dubbing artiste cops the blame but it’s the average show by Sai Dharam Tej that drags Virupaksha down. You see a bit of Prabhas and Himesh Reshammiya in him. There’s no real intensity from Tej.

The evil here will only target residents of Rudravanam. Surya being an outsider is under no grave threat. He, however, leads the fight. It’s bizarre though that evil too has a certain moral compass. The finale act plays out like a social commentary robbing the viewer of the chill that one so desired.

Samyuktha Menon has an impressive screen presence and it’s backed by a decent act. She has a bubbly presence in the early part of her role. There’s more to this bubbly chicken chor than it meets the eye. Menon gets swayed away by the slightly over-the-top finale act. Nevertheless, she does cast an impression on her first-time viewers.

Virupaksha doesn’t live up to the hype. The Rudravanam villagers must not cross the boundaries set by the priest, till the evil is contained.  Virupaksha, too, might struggle to appeal beyond the traditional boundaries. If not theatrical, maybe, Virupaksha [Hindi] might appeal to certain Hindi masses who consume such content on TV or mobile phones.

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