Durgamati movie cast: Arshad Warsi, Bhumi Pednekar, Mahie Gill, Jisshu Sengupta, Karan Kapadia, Anant Mahadevan
Durgamati movie director: G Ashok
Durgamati movie rating: One and a half stars

Deep in the jungles, there lies a ’haunted haveli’, where the locals fear to tread. A woman is kept captive within its mouldering confines. Who is she? Who are the people questioning her? What is her crime? And is there really a vengeful ‘bhoot’ floating about in that haveli?

Of course, life can be stranger than fiction, and there are things in this world that no one can explain. That’s what ‘horror-thrillers’ are meant for, and if you want to go down that path, you have to ensure that the viewers will fall for it, hook, line and several sinkers. But there are zero thrills or chills in Durgamati, the Hindi remake of the Tamil-Telugu bilingual Bhaagmathie, by the same director. The whole thing, which stretches for an inordinate 2.5 hours, is almost entirely unintentionally hilarious.

A straight-arrow neta (Warsi) gives the heave-ho to his dodgy younger brother. His faithful personal assistant, Chanchal Chauhan, IAS (Pednekar) is languishing in jail on what is clearly a trumped-up charge. The love of her life, an ultra-idealistic social worker, keeps raising his voice for ‘the voiceless’. Suddenly, Chanchal finds herself in the middle of a CBI investigation, geared against the honest neta, led by a frowny, heavily Bangla-accented officer called Satakshi Ganguli (Gill).

Questions abound. Why is an official ‘pooch-taacchh’ being held in a haunted haveli? Who knows? Why is the suspect left to her own devices all by herself in a haveli which has creaky locked doors, and shadows flitting on the walls? Good question. Just what is going on? The only thing we are sure of, as long-time viewers, that any neta like the one Warsi plays has to be deeply suspicious. As the plot points unravel, there’s nothing to do but sit back and chortle.

The design department’s hard work—cobwebby furniture, scrolls with fading paint, thunder and lightning—is eye-catching. Everyone else is very earnest, especially Pednekar who takes her job as a woman-who-may-be-possessed very seriously, brandishing trishuls and rolling her eyes. Warsi smirking is better than Warsi lecturing. Along comes the ‘comedy track’ with characters holding ‘numbu aur rudraksh ki mala’, intoning: iss ghar mein bhoot ka saya hai. You don’t say. The only one who seems to be in on the joke is Gill, as she goes about trying to brow-beat all suspects, which includes the said ‘bhoot’, in her on-and-off accent.

You should hear Gill say heavily: I don’t like negativity. Tell me if you didn’t crack up.


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