Director: Kranthi Prasad
Cast: Ravi Maria, Rahul C Kalyan, Niranth, Gouthami, Soujanya
Debutant director Kranthi Prasad is not someone with an ordinary vision. He is someone who has been awarded 'Best Youth' by an organisation in Bengaluru to celebrate his achievements in the field of social service, where he worked for the upliftment of the youth and tried to inculcate good habits and enforce positive messages into the youth.
Clearly using a bigger canvas, Kranthi has packaged these messages, with mostly abysmal levels of success, into a supernatural film that runs for 132 minutes.
The film begins with a group of friends — five guys and four girls — going into a forest to celebrate the birthday of Vicky (Rahul C Kalyan) in his guest house. The presence of the supernatural is established very early in the film with Vicky frequently getting cryptic dreams about impending death.
However, this avenue is left aside almost immediately as it is time for the first message. Vicky is under the influence of alcohol and the disclaimer at the bottom of the screen reads: "Alcohol destroys your life and home". Kranti is a filmmaker, unlike Anurag Kashyap, who would probably voluntarily run the disclaimer instead of cribbing about the usage. Message 1 delivered.
Then, a song greets us when the group of friends embark on the trip to the forest. A song that talks about how nature is the best, cutting trees is wrong, the air and water in forests are pure, etc... Message 2 delivered. And so on.
Out of the nine leads, there are four couples and a model citizen — a 'good' guy who is into yoga, martial arts, nature walks, knows everything about forests, its medicinal herbs, and is always meditating. He literally has no role to play for almost 80 minutes of the film. Not even a dialogue. All this even as the other eight friends are used to espouse messages like 'Don't insult the physically challenged, they can risk their life to save you' (even if the said physically challenged guy literally tried to date rape a girl a few scenes back)' or 'Be positive about professing your love, she might just say yes' (Even if the said one-side lover literally tried to date rape her a few scenes back) or 'He might have a tough exterior but has a heart of gold' (Even if... well you know...) However, cometh the hour, cometh the man and Venu makes a re-entry when the ghost, Ravi Maria, reveals its intentions. Let me be honest here, despite all his redeeming qualities and his knowledge of survival techniques and ability to reason out with the ghost by means of lengthy dialogues and exemplary levitating techniques, Venu is an insufferable know-it-all.
In a particularly testing scene in the second half of Santhoshathil Kalavaram, one of the leads falls dead due to exhaustion of trekking without food and water in the forest. While the friends do the most practical thing possible and start crying, Venu snaps them back to la la land and asks them to sit around the dead person and hold each other's hands and play that childhood game of 'current pass'. The only rule here is to chant 'She is alive'. There are yellow waves of positivity that run through their heads to form a sine wave of sorts. This energy is amplified when Venu looks strikingly at the moon, and the Earth's natural satellite decides to send a blue ray of light to his forehead which then mixes with the sine wave to make the girl come alive with the sheer force of positivity.
Now, I am all for outlandish themes, improbable scenarios and inexplicable reasoning. Give me a scene where after praying to a God, the omniscient being enters your body to give you an out-of-the-world experience where you have the powers to fight against the ghost (Dhilukku Dhuddu and scores of other movies), I am sold. But, this, not so much, even if Venu looks at me in the eye and says I have it in me to fight against evil forces by tapping into the God in me. Sorry, VenuMan.
The film's comedy works at times, especially the combination of Johnny (Rudra Aura) and Murugan (Jai Jagannadh) when they are not drinking or trying to molest their prospective lovers. The servant, Ramana (Alex), is an effective comic relief too. The women in the film just have two pages of dialogue between them. However, grace marks to the director for writing some sort of character arc for the women, and actually doing quite a bit right with the heroines. Even certain jump scares, the jerky camera movements and the functional horror-film soundtrack works in the film's favour.
The music by Sivanag tries too hard to infuse the horror elements into this convoluted mess and sticks out like Venu in a fun-filled romantic number. The songs are pleasant with names like Unnikrishnan, Chinmayi and Sathyaprakash lending their voices.
Basically, Santhoshathil Kalavaram is a Facebook post or a YouTube preach video masquerading as a supernatural, horror, romantic, unintentionally funny, survivalist thriller. The moments are there, the heart is there, but as a film, in the time of Whatsapp and Twitter, it is like those hundreds of unread text messages archived in our phones — unfortunately, outdated.