'Athidhi' is premiering currently on Disney Plus Hotstar. Presented by Praveen Sattaru, the Telugu-language web original is a supernatural thriller. Here is its review:
Ravi (Venu Thottempudi) is a rich novelist looking for inspiration to write a new novel. His paralyzed wife Sandhya (Aditi Gautam) is his only emotional succour in the isolated mansion where he lives.
The protagonist has an unexpected guest at the mansion: Maya (Avanthika Mishra), who claims to be a psychic healer needing shelter during the rainy night. Her behaviour is quite off - she appears to seduce him after borrowing his wife's saree. A ghost-hunting YouTuber named Savari (Venkatesh Kakumanu) and a menacing cop named Prakash (Ravi Varma) join the guest list.
Who among them is the ghost? What is the ghost's motive? Is there an escape from the spooky spell for the ones at the receiving end?
Venu Thottempudi, who returned to acting recently with 'Ramarao On Duty', makes some things too obvious. His unreal calm amid the most threatening of the situations is a dead giveaway. Avanthika Mishra's strange demeanour is too clever-by-half. It's the script's fault, for the writing tries to create intrigue in an old-fashioned way.
Venkatesh Kakumanu is insufferable in a series that doesn't know that reaction shots and stock lines don't count for humour, especially in a horror thriller. His behaviour is either convenient or downright silly. After a point, Kakumanu's character appears to be faking it.
Ravi Varma wants to appear cool the way flamboyant villains are in gangster movies. But he ends up looking like a cardboard character with no personality. Comedian Bhadram's character, riddled with a disbelievable motive, is thankfully there for just a couple of scenes.
The production values are decent. Kapil Kumar's background score could have been way better, though. Sans a novel script, there is only so much that he could have done. The actual scares are limited and, therefore, the special effects team could have gone for a vacation. Manojh Katasani's cinematography and Dharmendra Kakarala's editing are half-hearted and average, respectively.
Thunders rumble, characters breathe heavily, they shriek, the lightning is ever-present, the lights go off on their own, and so on and so forth. While the horror movie tropes are all there, the series lacks a basic understanding of the human psyche. Savari's character and his behaviour never make us believe that the crisis that he is facing is spine-chilling. The characters just stare at each other, waiting for others to complete their lazy sentences.
Complete strangers talk like they have known each other forever. Their conversations sound even more ridiculous in retrospect. When a character spots a desolate woman sobbing all alone amid bushes in the middle of a dark night, he wonders if she had a fight with her husband. Granted that he doesn't believe in ghosts, but that doesn't mean he has to conjure up silly thoughts like a fool.
Maya wants to look like a mystery woman but ends up looking suspicious right from the word go. Yes, that was the director's intention. And that's where the problem lies. Maya was supposed to evoke suspicion in the mind of the viewer without actually making things obvious.
The backstory comes in the final episode. And it feels like a short story from a novel written ages ago - the machinations are hackneyed, the villains of the piece execute their plan with practised ease, and the whole royal setting is the stuff of spoofs.
'Athidhi' wants to be a new-age supernatural horror-comedy by deploying dated narrative devices. The narrative stays focused but the ideas at work are inferior.