Director: Rawindra Pulle
Cast: Karthik Rathnam, Krishna Priya, Subhalekha Sudhakar, Ajay, Naveen Chandra, Aamani
The synopsis for Ardha Shathabdham, on Aha, says, “After five decades of Independence, India’s rural landscape still throws up unanswerable questions. Can a love story bring a revolution? Witness this earthy love story set in the early 2000s.” Well, that sounds like a thick plot concerning love and mayhem, right? Maybe, your heart tells you that you’re going to dive into a swirling romantic drama. Or maybe your mind takes the reins and declares that the scales are going to tip heavily in favor of violence.
While there’s indeed mayhem, it’s not the kind that you’d like to watch on screen. It doesn’t take too long for you to twist your face in disgust and give up on the film. All it takes is ten minutes and then, you’ll either be thinking of renouncing earthly pleasures for good or moving to another streaming platform to catch something that’s a little more comforting. Fridays should be about putting your feet up and relaxing. It shouldn’t involve voluntarily entering a dungeon and offering your head on a platter to the beast of unentertaining cinema.
Although, it’s really heartening to see filmmakers boldly taking up the subject of casteism and spinning stories around discrimination, it’s a weapon that needs to be used perfectly. Also, the political comment that they’re making must be relevant for the twenty-first century. Ardha Shathabdham begins with the tried-and-tested recipe of what appears to be a man who’s fallen head over heels in love with a woman. But this is in no way revolutionary. This is the basic plotline of more than ninety percent of Indian movies.
Krishna (Karthik Rathnam) stalks Pushpa (Krishna Priya) from sunrise to sunset. He has known her since his school days — they studied together. However, he has never gathered the courage to express his innermost thoughts to her. His friends encourage him to open his mouth, but he’s too shy to do the needful. He smiles at her from a distance and feels as though he’s over the moon when she pays a cursory glance at him. This black-paper-flavored story perhaps wants to turn into vanilla, but the cone is so bottomless that you can witness your sanity slipping with each passing minute.
As Krishna follows Pushpa and dreams of a full-fledged wedding where he’s showered with attention, you wonder if there’s anything more to it. And, at that precise moment of enlightenment, the magic happens — the magic of a landslide. A stream of chaotic confrontations takes place where people go on a killing spree. The murders are not entirely connected to the bone of Ardha Shathabdham, but they continue to paint the village — in which the movie is set — red at an alarming rate.
Men, young and old, drop dead for reasons such as rivalry and revenge — even characters that appear for a brief period are killed in ghastly manners. The extraordinary point behind this orgy of violence seems to be riddled in the fact that India is a casteist and sexist nation. This is not a new theory. We already know that.
A politician (played by Subhalekha Sudhakar) and a policeman (portrayed by Ajay) then enter the tale and have a discourse on the constitution. The former talks about Akhand Bharat and goes on to explain how it’s important for people like him to maintain the status quo. If all the armchair activists are brought under one roof, they’ll probably have such heated discussions on matters related to law and order.
Have we learned anything from our bloody history? No! Have we, as a society, begun to look beyond caste? No. In Ardha Shathabdham, people from the upper castes routinely eliminate the Dalits through the powers they wield without offering a ground for its politics to stick. It’s utterly silly. In one scene, a communist raises his voice against discrimination, and, then in another, the same fellow uses a casteist slur while arguing about the rights and wrongs of culture.
Since there’s no real love story as such to hold on to, it becomes hard to empathize with Krishna’s struggles. For him, it’s true love. And for the rest of us, it’s true pain. And since everybody picks up sickles, you won’t understand whom to root for.
Sai Kumar, who plays Pushpa’s father, mouths a handful of zany lines here and there. But they don’t come anywhere close to the ones he delivered in Prasthanam (2010). His character, in the beginning, comes across as the voice of reason. However, as the movie progresses, you’ll lose interest in his folksy metaphors, as well.
With so many able performers in a single film (think of Kumar, Rathnam, Ajay, Naveen Chandra, and Aamani), Ardha Shathabdham should have actually soared into the sky, but it doesn’t!