It is not that often that one comes across a web series that you judge too soon by its cover. There have been many thriller series, but very few fit into the family thriller sub-genre and deliver a product that would surprise the audience in the end. Vadhuvu, a brand-new Disney+ Hotstar Original, released on December 8, 2023. Directed by Poluri Krishna, the show is about a young woman who marries a mysterious family and tries to unearth the story behind spooky incidents taking place around her.
Vadhuvu is a seven-episode miniseries that begins with the upcoming wedding of a young woman from a prosperous family, Indu. She was supposed to be married to Sanjay, but on the eve of her wedding, her fiancé eloped with her younger sister Bhanu, and the family has never been the same. Sadly, Indu has a history of her weddings being called off once before this. A year after the incident, she is now slated to marry Anand. This time around, there is a lot of tension about the marriage, and as the wedding day approaches, plenty of mysterious incidents keep occurring at her home.
Anand’s family comes across as unusual as they are sticklers for many rituals and rites leading up to the wedding. Their behavior towards their mentally challenged family member would be a red flag for anyone, but Indu has no choice but to move forward with the nuptials. As Indu becomes a part of Anand’s family, she is further exposed to unexpected incidents that could be connected to a family member who has been disowned. Is everything in Indu’s imagination, or is there someone trying to mess with her to question her union and the family she married into? Is Anand’s family hiding something or someone?
The biggest red herring in this show is the premise. The show begins with not-up-to-par cinematography and direction. Poluri Krishna indulged in very melodramatic television serialistic elements that would initially put the audience off. It would make everyone wonder how the show was approved by a streaming giant like Disney+.
As the narrative progresses and moves up to episode five, there is a dramatic shift, and Vadhuvu suddenly becomes engaging despite its obvious flaw, which is the mediocre execution of the screenplay. The initial messaging of the show is problematic because the writer, Poluri Krishna, has placed such a deep emphasis on women getting married and how a wedding being called off affects the societal image of the woman and her family. It is not surprising that this kind of messaging is being propagated in a day and age where shows like Indian Matchmaking are thriving.
The makers are also initially insensitive towards a character who is deeply traumatized and might be borderline mentally challenged. But the writer and the director make up for the said person’s arc as the show progresses and introduce the fact that there is more to the trauma she has been through. Another character was introduced as a pervert, but as the show progressed, the audience was supposed to sympathize with him. The sudden change of arc is confusing and not justified. It was smart of the writers to let the audience wait and unleash a better narrative halfway into the show. There is a lot to unpack as mysterious incidents keep occurring, and Indu takes it upon herself to unveil the truth her husband’s family is trying to hide. The decent part about the second half of the narrative is that the woman is not meek or powerless.
Indu is not intimidated by her always suspicious husband or the patriarchy-upholding mother-in-law. Indu would want to find out so that she could live peacefully. But this kind of narrative is also a double-edged sword. Watching her husband and his mother mistreat Indu, the woman remains composed and does not think about leaving the family for good. It is implied that the woman must stay in the marriage, no matter how psychotic the family might be. A woman being given the baton to uphold family values despite being mistreated on arrival in the family is wrong messaging. There is also a tacky narrative involving the lead and her relationship with her estranged sister. It was an over-the-top dramatic subplot that added to the intrigue factor, but the narrative could have been executed in a better fashion. The story and the screenplay created a sense of eeriness and a genuine interest in finding out who is behind these inexplicable incidents that are bothering Indu.
The direction could have been worked on because the show is littered with some awkwardly shot scenes. Even though the story and the screenplay make sense, it is the direction that makes the viewing experience unpleasant. There is still plenty of misogyny and patriarchal underlying themes that dominate the show, and the writer is unable to look beyond them. The show has been given the soap drama treatment, which obstructs a decent story the writer is attempting to do, something different from the usual content we watch in this genre.
The cinematography by Ram K. Mahesh is also of no help because it adds to the caricature-ish nature of the direction. The music by Sriram Maddury is loud to the point that it unnecessarily adds to the flaws of the show. The sudden addition of a blaring noise to project mysteriousness is the most obvious way to create tension. The editing by Anil Kumar P is a blessing in disguise because, only in the run time of 19 to 23 minutes, a lot of the narrative is delivered. The buildup and the tension created till the end are interesting, and they pave the way for the second season. Even though the plot took its own sweet time to establish itself, there would be a lot to uncover in the second season.
Since the direction was not up to par, it affected the performances of the actors as well. Avika Gor, as Indu, manages to create an aura about herself by getting into the dirt to find out what is happening around her, but her stale expression is a killjoy. Apart from Avika, there was not one single performance that stood out. It is appalling that there was not one good actor to pull off a mystery thriller. Vadhuvu is a decent attempt to make a family drama with added elements of mystery and thriller that is sadly affected by a tacky direction.