There is always a slippery slope with horror dramas because either the film will click or it will mercilessly fail. Mansion 24 and Athidi are examples of horror dramas in Telugu cinema with poor storytelling and execution. Dhootha could also be included in this list because there is no end to the absurdity that takes place in the name of journalism in the film. Dhootha, loosely translated to Messenger, is a Telugu-language Prime Video India original directed by Vikram K. Kumar, released on November 30, 2023. This is the story of a strange phenomenon witnessed by a reputed journalist and subsequently affecting his personal life.
This eight-episode-long show is about Sagar Varma, a renowned journalist who comes across various newspaper cuttings that explain the approaching deaths of his family in detail. As one incident after another takes place, the man is afraid to lose his family. He was also a witness to his ex-best friend, now a rival journalist, Charles David, killing himself. A police investigation led by Assistant Commissioner of Police Kranti Shenoy takes her to several places, but there is a final puzzle piece that needs to be found, which is the motive. Sagar was losing his mind over the strange occurrences, which included his heavily pregnant wife, Priya, who herself is a reputed journalist. He finally finds the large piece that is the reason behind these deaths, but it takes him down the rabbit hole of history that mixes journalism with local politics. Is Sagar capable enough to face the truth? What was the reason behind these sudden deaths? Is there a cycle that needs to be broken?
The screenplay and story were major issues regarding this horror-supernatural drama because the narrative is not straightforward and there is severe confusion when it comes to the ending of the show. It is a preposterous story, and the ludicrous execution by the director makes the show unbearable. The story by Vikram K. Kumar, Poorna Pragna, Sripal Reddy, Naveen George Thomas, and Dondapati Venkatesh does not make any sense because there is no conclusive structure to it. This supernatural horror drama was made only for the sake of it, as there is no world-building. The story of a journalist and his loved one being targeted as per the news clippings could have been an interesting premise until the story moved forward and took a strange turn.
The history of journalists being targeted for decades, and the corruption angle given were handled most unrealistically. Being unrealistic has been a forte of Telugu cinema, and this show is filled with scenarios where the narrative is not presented convincingly. The whole idea of presenting commercial content is to present the world convincingly and draw the audience into it without questioning the reason behind its existence. Such is not the case with Dhootha. The screenplay and story take a lot of time to establish the modus operandi of the crimes. Sadly, the screenplay was beating the bush and didn’t really move forward until the fifth episode. A reason and motive were eventually found for the deaths. The subplot involving a YouTuber was a catalyst, but it began and ended so quickly that there was no room for the viewers to get a grasp on it. There was also another subplot involving a death in Sagar’s family, but the narrative is bland and devoid of emotion; there is no time given to the lead to breathe and collect himself after a tragedy that struck his family. The show jumps from one subplot to another with inconclusive closures.
In one of the subplots, we found out about Sagar’s affair with a colleague, but there was no definite ending to what happened to her. Even Sagar’s character, who started as a decent person and enthusiastic about his journalistic aspirations and love for crosswords, suddenly turned into an antagonist. There were no layers or shades of gray given to him as a lead. No redemption arc could save Sagar’s arc. The same could be said about other supporting characters, including his wife Priya, who had little to no role to play except in the last episodes of the show. ACP Kranti Shenoy had a better arc and purpose that didn’t meander. She is the only character that adds something of significance to the overall narrative. Her investigations took the storytelling somewhere, but this entire subplot is clouded by Sagar’s arc.
Another subplot involving the history of a certain newspaper derailed the whole show and slowed down the pacing further. An entire episode could have been concise, and the makers could have cut down the runtime as well. The episode proved to be a slugfest, even though this was a crucial link that would connect the story with the motive. The entire lead-up to the climax and the actual ending of the show were unintentionally laughable. The big reveal regarding the deaths was also rushed through with no room for the audience to understand why people were being killed. It was left to the viewers to make assumptions, and this is bad screenwriting and filmmaking.
Even though the direction was decent, it was the screenplay and the story that let the whole show down. There is no turning back to make Dhootha worth the viewer’s time. Certain death scenes are gory and needless. It was solely added for the shock value, but it created a sense of disgust. The engaging factor is lost midway, and there could not be a more visually horrifying show than Dhootha, and we do not mean that in a positive sense. There needed to be proper reasoning as to why such graphic bloodshed was required. Sadly, there was none, which brought down the engaging factor. The cinematography by Mikolaj Sygula did not allow the audience to remain hooked on the story that was unfolding. The editing took a back seat because the writers took their own sweet time to establish the premise and the motive behind the crimes.
The performances, to some extent, are the saving grace. Parvathy Thiruvothu, as ACP Kranti Shenoy, is excellent from the start till the end. She seems to have not dubbed and spoken Telugu herself, which improves the viewing experience. Her performance had a definite arc, even though the certain conclusion she reached was convenient. As ACP Kranti Shenoy, she has no airs about being a female cop, and that credit ought to go to the writers of the show.
Naga Chaitanya Akkineni is decent only in certain parts of the show. He is a letdown in emotional and other crucial scenes. His fluctuating character arc was confusing and could only make the viewing experience bearable in parts. Priya Bhavani Shankar, Sagar’s wife, was sadly not given much to work with. She had the potential to be the third lead, but the writing let her down. Veteran actors Pasupathy and Rohini had nothing to offer, which is a sad revelation. Malayalam actor Srikant Murali, in a few scenes, leaves an impact. That is a hallmark of a good actor. Dhootha could have been an appealing watch if the makers had not stretched the narrative and left no room for the final motive and the reveal. The show is indeed a preposterous supernatural drama with no soul.