‘Ardha Shathabdham’ movie review: Incoherent narration mars interesting ideas

Karthik Rathnam and Krishnapriya in the film  

Ardha Shathabdham joins the string of recent Telugu films where the story unfolds in a less-explored interior region of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh and mirrors the native milieu. Director Rawindra Pulle takes us into a hamlet in Telangana (filmed in Nirmal and adjacent areas of Nizamabad) in the early 2000s, where the fault lines of caste still run deep. He questions why archaic norms are adhered to even at the turn of the new millennium.

  • Ardha Shathabdham
  • Cast: Karthik Rathnam, Krishnapriya, Sai Kumar, Naveen Chandra
  • Direction: Rawindra Pulle
  • Streaming on: Aha

It’s a relevant premise. When divisive forces are at work, a seemingly random incident is enough to stoke deep-rooted hatred and spark violence, as shown in the film. Rawindra tries to ask why humanity cannot rise above caste divisions to uphold the tenets of the Indian Constitution.

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The film looks at the social fabric issues through its myriad characters — a former Naxal, a youngster in the throes of a romance and seeking job prospects in Dubai, a police officer who is frustrated at having to carry out encounter killings, a politician who doesn’t flinch before doing something unjust, and the villagers who are caught up in their own ideas of caste-based social norms.

All this might have seemed interesting on paper, but doesn’t translate to a cohesive and absorbing narrative.

The opening sequence gives a glimpse of the fissures in the village, with a chieftain declaring that people of a certain caste should continue the work they have been doing over generations, and cannot dream of soaring higher. Oblivious to all this is the love-struck Krishna (Karthik Rathnam) who has been holding a candle for his childhood sweetheart Pushpa (newcomer Krishnapriya).

The first hour or so belongs to Karthik and the music composer Nawfal Raja Asi. Karthik gives in to the naive innocence required to carry off his part and is effective. The dreamy one-sided romance is deliberately languid in its pacing and the Chennai-based music composer accentuates it with tunes that vary from the folksy to the filmi melodies; one song has an unmistakable resonance of A R Rahman’s ‘Raasathi’ (Thiruda Thiruda; 1993) though this one isn’t completely A Cappella. Though the music, the picturisation, and the lead pair are enjoyable to watch, little else happens.

At once, newer and complex characters that are distraught with the ways of society or battling their inner demons, come to the fore. After an innocuous incident leads to mayhem in the village, the narrative begins to meander.

Some of the scenes showing the violence in the village look amateurish. And too much happens without synergy. Cop Ranjith’s (Naveen Chandra) rage is understandable and so is the inner conflict of former rebel Ramanna (Sai Kumar). The discussion between a top cop (Ajay) and the MLA (Sudhakar) on what the Indian Constitution stands for and whether the killing of innocents can be justified, could have been an interesting one. But it gets boring, like the rest of the film.

For the most part, the acting remains earnest and that’s the only saving grace. Krishnapriya is expressive and has a striking screen presence. Naveen Chandra holds attention whenever he’s in the frame, but one wishes his character had been better written. The same goes for Sai Kumar and Aamani, whose presence could have been used even better. A host of other actors, including Ajay and Raja Ravindra, are wasted.

What Ardha Shathabdham lacks is a narrative with a beating heart that could have made us root for the characters.

(Ardha Shathabdham streams on Aha)

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Printable version | Aug 4, 2021 6:02:30 AM |

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