Imagine Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code in an Indian context, with a story built around Hindu symbolism and semiotics. Writer-director Chandoo Mondeti’s Karthikeya 2 is in such a zone, with the protagonists (Nikhil Siddhartha and Anupama Parameswaran) discovering clues and trying to unearth hidden truths as members of a secret society are at their heels. The premise is also reminiscent of Ashwin Sanghi’s book The Krishna Key. This isn’t to say that the stories are the same, but there are the broad similarities — secret societies, codes and symbols, anthropologists and archeologists and the ever-present danger from those who have ulterior motives.
Chandoo Mondeti’s 2014 Telugu film Karthikeya was a smaller and more intimate film in which Dr Karthik (Nikhil), an atheist, relied on science and logic to unravel secrets in the Subrahmanya swami temple in Subrahmanyapuram. Driven by curiosity, he refuses to believe in superstitions and gets to the bottom of mysterious killings.
Karthikeya 2 is a different chapter in Dr Karthik’s life. He is still driven by curiosity but this time, the turn of events warrants him to not look at everything through the lens of science and logic. The film opens with a note stating that it is a fiction based on history. Later in the film, a character says Gods are our ancestors and what we term as mythology is history. An anklet of lord Krishna, which is safely hidden in a corner of the earth and which has the answers to the world’s problems, is the bone of contention in this story.
Prof. Rao, an archaeologist, learns about a few historical truths from a library in Pantainos, Greece, and that sets the ball rolling for this story. Dr Karthik, who has no connection whatsoever with the professor, finds himself in a tricky situation when he visits Dwaraka accompanied by his mother (Tulasi). In a situation similar to The Da Vinci Code, Karthik is helped by the professor’s granddaughter Mugdha (Anupama), who studied Hindu semiotics at the Banaras Hindu University.
The protagonists, along with Karthik’s uncle Sadananda (Srinivasa Reddy), a staunch Krishna devotee, set off on an adventurous journey across Dwaraka, Beyt Dwaraka, Mathura, Radha Kund, Bundelkhand and Himachal Pradesh. Production designer Sahi Suresh and cinematographer-editor Karthik Ghattamaneni do a fine job as the story unravels across these locations, and they are suitably helped by Kaala Bhairava’s background score.
The narrative, however, does not capitalise on the potential for a nail-biting thriller. In many scenes the dialogues over-explain the protagonists’ actions. The characters are made to talk more than necessary without swiftly addressing the issue at hand.
The blend of religion and the thriller elements also do not happen seamlessly. The story keeps pausing to sermonise and extol ideologies, which take the bite off the thriller.
An ancient telescope, a peacock-shaped structure and an anklet are some of the objects that move the story forward. The search for the anklet in a religious-cultural backdrop could have also made for a fantasy tale like the Kodi Ramakrishna movies of yore. The thriller mode sets in only in the final act, setting the stage for Karthikeya 3.
The performances — Nikhil’s restrained act and Anupama’s effective act — are in sync with what is required for the story; Harsha Chemudu plays an amiable Muslim driver who helps the protagonists in their search. Praveen and Satya appear in brief parts.
Karthikeya 2 is co-produced by the makers of The Kashmir Files and knows how to capitalise on the dominant socio-political mood at the moment. Had the narrative been shorn of its preachy tone, Karthikeya 2 would have been a riveting thriller.