Film Review: Dawshom Awatar : Hindu mythology riding piggy-back on the thriller genre
Dr. Shoma A. Chatterji provides an insightful review of the film 'Dawshom Awatar', where Hindu mythology intertwines with the thrilling elements of the genre.
Dawshom Awatar carries the signature of Srijit Mukherjee’s two specialities – the psychological thriller and the random use of ribaldry and vulgarity in the dialogue. We watched Dawshom Awatar, one of the hottest box office hits of the four Pooja releases, at the Nandan complex, known for its elite and educated middle class audience. But what surprised us more than the twists and turns in this serial killer story is the cheering and whistling among the audience whenever an obscenity or a vulgarity was uttered by either the main protagonist, the chronically depressed, angry and arrogant cop Probir Roy Choudhury (Prosenjit) or his junior Bijoy Poddar (Anirban Bhattacharya) who picks up Probir’s dirty vocabulary almost as soon as he takes on as Roy Choudhury’s assistant. They are vested with the responsibility of solving a series of serial killings that has scared the Kolkata public and drawn the attention of the media. The same audience maintained a strange silence whenever the film took on a serious note. But wait. Srijit Mukherjee has tried his best to appease three masters of the box office – ribaldry to please the vulgarity-hungry crowd, futile and needless intrusion of some poetry by the German writer Rainer Maria Silke to keep elite intellectuals happy, mythology to please the middle-class and some sex, both in dialogue and in action, to appease everyone. This is an excellent formula to create a ‘cop universe’ as Srijit has made several films in this genre, except that the use of sex, verbal and visual, halfway through the film scars the electrically charged thrills. But as box office jingles echo loudly across the houseful theatres, he has hit the target.
The film establishes the ambience of suspense, tension and danger right through the narrative dotted with enough twists and turns to keep our adrenalin flowing. This is somewhat marred by the abundant and superfluous use of ribaldry, often, without reason. The film borrows heavily from the Hindu mythology of the Ten Avatars of Lord Vishnu explained in the Vishnu Puran known as Dashavatar to narrate the sad story of how a young man begins to believe that he has been sent to earth as the tenth avatar, Kalki, to set all the wrongs in the world right. The film opens with the first killing of a promoter, understood by the killer to be a human reincarnation of the Matsya avatar, killed in his bathtub by releasing an entire shoal of red-bellied piranhas and leaving behind a beaded string with beads as his ‘signature’. The killings continue, each victim revealed to be a very criminal-minded, powerful and wealthy citizen of the city – a businessman, a criminal lawyer, a doctor, a college lecturer where the killer leaves his signature by using a heavy stone statuette of a tortoise as the murder weapon (Kurmi Avatar) and leaving behind beads as his signature. The murders go on which keep the police force’s best specialist in serial killings, Roy Choudhury, mystified by his own inability to nab the killer. His assistant Bijoy is surprised at Roy Choudhury’s confusion.
The killer’s back story is shown through time leaps into the past shot in Black-and-White when, as a small boy, he is mesmerised by his journalist father’s narration of mythological stories. These time leaps, shot in Black-and-White with slightly diffused visuals, add the only touch of subtlety to the film and throw up the contrast between the killer’s delightful past and his scary and horrific present. The chase to hunt the killer is dotted heavily by the media rush, cut into with news channels screaming out the police’s failure to nab the culprit. The few songs are quite good but the background score is too loud which disturbs the seriousness of the visual drama. A thriller, generally speaking, can be reduced to just two essentials – a hero and a conspiracy. Who is the hero here – is it Roy Choudhury with his anger that accelerates his focus and his determination instead of diffusing it? Is it his assistant Vijay who falls for the sole female entrant, the very attractive psychiatrist (Jaya Ahsan) almost at first sight and asks his superior to arrange for her police protection? Or, is it the serial killer himself who, extremely skilled in disguises and prosthetic make-up and extremely confident in his work? He is diagnosed as suffering from narcissistic personality disorder according to the beautiful psychiatrist whose patient this killer is and who voluntarily approaches the two men to provide them with detailed info on the killer. History has it that some famous people diagnosed (not medically verified), as suffering from NPD were/are – Hitler, Stalin, Madonna, Lady Gaga and Kim Kardarshian.
Though the unfolding of the film leaves an impression of high speed and action filled with chases through the lanes and streets of Calcutta, the romantic digression with a bit of sex brought in, brings down the psychological thriller element in this otherwise suspense-filled film. Its running time that crosses two-and-a-half hours is proof that had the footage been slashed a bit, the suspense could have held on till the end and the electrically charged aura the film is spilling over with, sustained till the heart-stopping climax.
There is nothing ‘ordinary’ about the film. The story is filled with high voltage action, speed, mystery, intrigue and fear. The characters are off-mainstream by virtue of their nature, their speech and their changing moods. Interactions between and among the major characters, including the horror-filled ones between the killer and his victims, makes a strong point. However, the script is also filled with logical lapses aplenty. Where is the killer getting the funds to finance his series of killings? How is Roy Choudhury, already burdened with a court case against his suspension, allowed to take charge of this case by the SP? Given the back story of the sensual psychiatrist, when and where did she train herself? Why does the sharp-brained Roy Choudhury not bother to check her credentials or her story about the killer, and take her word for it? The physicality of the short affair between Bijoy and the psychiatrist is too fast to be credible and could have been snipped.
The film is held together mainly by the power-packed performances of Prosenjit, Jishu Sengupta and Anirban Bhattacharya. Jaya adds her oomph to the film too. This is an actor’s film and the characters create the story rather than the story made to revolve around the characters. The cinematography is brilliant, with abundant use of greys and blues cut into with Black-and-White. There is some coloured drawings used to explain the mythological stories. The editing handles the challenging twists, cuts, jerks and jumps such as the killing in the elevator and what happens after, or the disguised killer stepping into the café’s kitchen to do his job, or the college professor waiting for the train and then the sudden push from behind shown mainly in suggestion are quite strong. The production design, especially the visuals shot in Roy Choudhury’s home, a loner and an alcoholic with a foul mouth, or, the police canteen, dimly lit, the bar, and the terrace which gives a glimpse of the Howrah Bridge in the distance where the killer often lies in a hammock! The climax which leads to the sudden killing of the villain is well-crafted as it is not really the climax but a prelude to the real climax that defines a good twist to a well-made suspense thriller. Mukherjee is talented, innovative and creative. So, why does he need to steep into ribaldry so much? Does “Kalki” get rid of the nine Vishnu avatars? For that, you must watch the film.
N.B: The copyrights of the film still including the film poster , are Venkatesh Films and Jio Studios, the producers of the film.
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