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Durgamati: The Myth review – This bland, unimaginative remake will test your patience

Release Date: 11 Dec 2020

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Suyog Zore

Despite her best efforts, Bhumi Pednekar fails to replicate Anushka Shetty's screen presence.

When Durgamati, the Hindi remake of the Telugu film Bhaagamathie (2018), was announced, many ardent Anushka Shetty fans declared that her performance could not be replicated. Though one should take such opinions with a grain of salt, they have proved right in this case.

Don't get me wrong, Bhumi Pednekar, who plays the character originally portrayed by Shetty, has proved herself in Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015) and Sonchiriya (2019). But there are some films where mere acting chops are not enough; the performer needs to possess a certain larger-than-life aura. Unfortunately, Pednekar lags in this regard.

Despite the flawed and illogical script by director G Ashok, Shetty single-handedly carried Bhaagamathie with her formidable screen presence. Durgamati afforded Ashok a second chance to tell his tale, but he squanders the rare opportunity with this shot-for-shot remake.

Now set in North India, the film sees Pednekar play Chanchal Chauhan, an IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer who is imprisoned for the murder of her fiancé. The CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation), at the behest of its political masters, confines Chanchal at a haunted palace in a remote location in order to extract information from her about her former boss, a seemingly incorruptible politician named Ishwar Prasad (Arshad Warsi). The interrogation is headed by CBI officer Satakshi Ganguly (Mahie Gill) and ACP Abhay Singh (Jisshu Sengupta).

There is also a subplot about antique idols being stolen from temples and Ganguly is tasked with somehow linking the thefts to Ishwar Prasad to malign his image.

Durgamati possesses every cliché associated with supernatural thrillers: an abandoned centuries-old mansion, passages engulfed in darkness, massive intricately carved doors, huge dust-covered mirrors, faded portraits and a secret exit. Also, how can we forget the crusty watchman whose warnings fall on deaf ears?

Despite the art department's efforts, the film never manages to induce chills because Ashok never really uses the setting to his advantage. Instead, he relies on cheap jump scares and weird camera angles. There are extreme close-ups, but the character's fears never get transmitted to the audience because of the over-the-top performances. The characters' bizarre antics, in fact, bring unintentional humour to some of the genuinely scary scenes, which are few and far between as it is.

Warsi and Sengupta are both convincing, but Gill's head-scratching attempt at a Bengali accent takes you out of the film.

At 155 minutes, the film is way too long and weighed down by long sections packed with tedious conversation. Ashok could have completely eliminated these and crafted a more compact film with more horror elements. But it seems everyone wanted to blindly replicate the original without attempting anything new.

Generally, when a regional-language film is remade into Hindi, the newer version scores highly in the technical department, but not so in the case of Durgamati. In fact, the camerawork and effects in the original were far more visually arresting. Even the leading lady was shot better in Bhaagamathie.

Ashok and his cinematographer Madhie had shot the interiors of the palace quite intelligently and crafted some innovative sequences in Bhaagamathie, but it seems the director didn't want to take as much effort with this endeavour, resorting instead to simpler methods. What results is a distinct lack of dread.

Avoid this bland and boring remake. If the story interests you, watch the original.

Durgamati: The Myth is being streamed on Amazon Prime Video.

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