Monday 15 April 2024

Geethanjali Malli Vachindi | review by Stephen Theaker

A much more stylish sequel to the 2014 Telugu film Geethanjali, this 15-rated horror comedy from first-time director Shiva Thurlapati introduces us to an unattractive, middle-aged street food vendor hoping to persuade the military father of his very young girlfriend that he’s a catch worthy of her, even though he obviously isn’t. To this end, he proudly declares that within a year he will be respected by everyone, that they’ll all be calling him “sir”: he is about to star in a film! Unfortunately, the purported director – played by Srinivasa Reddy, returning from the first film – has no film in the works, and has in fact been bilking the vendor to support himself and his two writers.

When the fraud is revealed, all four of them accept that their movie-making dreams are over, and sing an amusing and rather wise song to the effect that knowing the right time to accept failure can be a kind of success too. Fortunately, at that point an offer comes in from a wealthy businessman who wants to make a movie too, has a story in mind, and has even bought an appropriately spooky location to shoot it: a dilapidated hotel in which lovers (particularly men who were exploiting young women) were being murdered by ghosts every year on August 8. Not that the director and his friends know that, at first, so they happily head off to the picturesque countryside to make their movie.

Meanwhile a creepy ventriloquist, also returning from the first film, buys a cute M3gan-looking doll from a street kid which he tries to use in his act. Unfortunately, it starts talking for itself, calling out a powerful, sleazy man in the audience as a pervert for constantly pawing the young woman sitting next to him. The doll has been possessed by the spirit of Geethanjali, the vengeful female spirit from the first film. The wealthy businessman has picked out her younger sister – not an actress – to play the lead role in his film, and after lots of shenanigans in the course of the film being shot, Geethanjali will have a big supernatural fight with another ghost in a fairground to protect her sister – easily the best bit of the film.

The best way to describe this film is that it’s like Scooby Doo with lots of throat-slitting. For a comedy, it’s remarkable how many characters are quite brutally despatched, and not just in a funny, Evil Dead, over-the-top way, but sometimes just by having a villain reach out with a knife and casually cut their throats. The Scooby Doo aspect comes from the film’s main conceit: once the director and his two writers realise that the ghosts in the hotel are real, they tell the actors and crew that the ghosts are played by method actors, and so they begin to interact with the ghosts without realising anything’s up, like Shaggy and Scooby often do at first.

It was fairly amusing how the hotel ghosts, having been performers in life, were willing to set aside their murderous impulses in favour of participating in the film. A scene where the street vendor turned actor tries to teach a wailing ghost how to cry properly was also quite funny. It’s a shame he played less of a role as the film went on, because he was the funniest thing in it, and it was weird that the instigating event in the film, his need to impress his fiance's father, was completely forgotten at the end. (My apologies if it was addressed in the untranslated block of text that came up at the end of the film.) It was also a bit of a letdown that although the Geethanjali doll kept eyeballing iffy blokes as if she had fatal plans for them, nothing much came of that either.

Some viewers have suggested that too much of the supposed humour came from people shouting at each other, and the sky-high volume at which Indian films seem to be played in UK cinemas won’t have helped with that. Other people have talked about colourism in casting female actors in India, and in this film the difference between male and female actors in that regard was so pronounced that one might think sexual dimorphism had taken a unique direction in southern India. The lead actress on the poster is not, despite appearances, playing one of the ghosts. Another distraction was that health warnings popped up on screen along with any appearances of cigarettes or alcohol, even if they were concealed in a bag; I’m surprised they weren’t removed for the UK release.

On the more positive side, although I’d question the need for an interval at all in a fairly short film by Indian standards, the build-up to the interval was very well done, as was the subsequent return to the action. It’s rather fun for films to have an immense cliffhanger in the middle, like old film serials. The film made me laugh out loud a handful of times, although I think I was the only one in the cinema who did, and there were a few half-decent jump scares and eerie moments. The first film is on YouTube, albeit without subtitles, and it looks like something that could have been shot on an iPhone. This sequel, even if it still isn’t very good by most standards, appears to be a step up in every regard: special effects, performances, direction, music, etc. The final ghost fight is played straight, and all the better for it. I wish the whole film had been like that. Stephen Theaker **

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