A scene from “Nishabdham.” (Trailer Grab photo)

This ambitious Indo-American thriller is generally gripping despite some flaws and a concession to our kind of entertainment. The main characters are few but all Indians, while there is a sizable contingent of American actors, of which only a deviant cop is from there.

The obvious influences of classic Telugu cinema were bound to creep in, in the 'dialogues,' the way (and what) the news readers speaks in English even in USA. In two long-empty houses, the lamps in all rooms are on, and a cop is murdered without any logical reason just to create some tension. Finally, the climax is classically mainstream in the way it is stretched that extra bit. All in an Indian film's game, you see!

However, overall, the script makes the film engrossing as a murder mystery —popular cello player Anthony Gonsalves played by R. Madhavan is killed when he accompanies his hearing- and speech-impaired fiancee Sakshi (Anushka Shetty) into a haunted house to look for a classic painting that is there. The house's haunted reputation dates back to 1972, when a couple has been attacked fatally. 45 years later, the house is a rented (and renovated) property, with everything except the cellar redone! Why? Because the haunting spirit of 1972 seems to be there and must be replicated in 2019!

Sakshi, an orphan, is a painter and Anthony has been smitten by her at first meeting. Anthony dies a grotesque death and Sakshi, traumatized and bleeding, stumbles and escapes from the house. There is another puzzle: when Sakshi got engaged to Anthony, her childhood best friend Sonali (Shalini Pandey) has gone missing. Sonali was pathologically possessive about Sakshi.

Heading the investigation is a near-psychopathic cop (after he lost his wife) named Richard Dickens (Michael Madsen) and his assistant Maha (Anjali), who like Sakshi is from Andhra Pradesh. Maha refuses to believe that a ghost killed Anthony and suspects Sonali as Anthony's killer. However, a lot of young women have been suddenly missing from the area, before Anthony's death, that is. Then there is Sakshi's and Sonali's common friend Vivek (Subbaraju), who seems to be fond of Sonali.

Maha is the narrator of the film, but suddenly Vivek takes over. And then we come to a fairly bloodied climax with a smart plot that has many twists and is reasonably innovative.

This is the second Telugu movie (after the still-better "V") I have watched within a few weeks and I cannot but muse on how interestingly and effortlessly their writers and filmmakers make even old and older wine fit into entrancing new bottles, thus connecting with viewers. They serve us riveting and spicy (masala, get it?) stories that have fresh twists within a tried and tested template. "Nishabdham" (Silence—that title has a nice dimension here) may not be fabulous but is a well-executed entertainer with many unexpected flourishes. There are some more minor flaws but they all seem to be dispensable in the overall crisp narration.

The locations and cinematography (Shaneil Deo) are bewitching—full marks to the team that chose where the film was shot. The editing is smart and I liked the melodious title-track "Naa Kanupaapa" and another fast-paced song "Ee Premante Inthey" for their melody and rhythm respectively.

One significant grouse: the English subtitles seem to be done in a hurry, and the songs are terribly translated! "Life is a watery eye" goes one line in a song! Now what will the global audience think of that?

This film (after "V") left me wishing that our Hindi cinema too keeps in sync with our roots and the maximum audience and dispenses with the pseudos and the morons who have pervaded the industry and polluted the receptivity of Hindi cinema—these (un)worthies patronize the media and the miniscule intellectuals  rather than their target consumers—which, by the way, does not mean only the supposedly lowbrow hoi-polloi.

Rating: ***1/2

Producers: Kona Venkat & Vishwa Prasad

Directed by: Hemant Madhukar

Written by: Kona Venkat & Hemant Madhukar

Music: Gopi Sundar

Starring: R. Madhavan, Anushka  Shetty, Shalini Pandey, Anjali, Michael Madsen, Subbaraju, Srinivas Avasarala, Ravi Dasika, Olivia Dunkley, India Everett, Morgen Johnson & others

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