When a film or a series that ventures into the paranormal thriller zone does not settle for easy highs that come from jumpscares and amped up sound effects, and instead relies on its writing, it turns out to be rewarding. Dhootha, the Telugu web series directed by Vikram Kumar and starring Naga Chaitanya Akkineni, Parvathy Thiruvothu, Priya Bhavani Shankar and others, is in this category. The eight-episode series streaming on Amazon Prime Video is intriguing and accords its viewers a certain amount of respect.
Dhootha, which means messenger in Telugu, marks both the director and the lead actor’s first tryst with digital space. Vikram Kumar, who shares the writing credits with a team, casts Naga Chaitanya Akkineni as an investigative journalist, Sagar. The story begins in late 2022 when Sagar is working towards launching a newspaper. I was both chuffed and piqued by the idea of launching a newspaper post pandemic, a phase when traditional print media also had to embrace the digital medium. There is a reason why this story deals with the printed word, which is revealed gradually.
Dhootha takes us into the world of Sagar where he finds himself caught in the thick of mysterious happenings. Much of the narrative unfolds in rain-soaked Visakhapatnam and Mikolaj Sygula’s camera uses moody lighting to good effect, amplifying the gloom that slowly gnaws at Sagar’s very being. Varun Venugopal’s sound design (without the cliched creaky doors or windows) and Rajeevan’s production design also stay in sync with the narrative’s requirements.
The first two episodes establish the premise and the characters. Sagar’s wife Priya (Priya Bhavani Shankar) is a journalist on maternity break; to the story’s credit, it doesn’t relegate her to a one-note character. To reveal more about what she does would be a spoiler. It is interesting that her characterisation does not take the safe, regular route in portraying a young mother who is expecting another child.
Dhootha (Telugu web series)
Cast: Naga Chaitanya Akkineni, Parvathy Thiruvothu, Priya Bhavani Shankar, Prachi Desai
Direction: Vikram Kumar
Storyline: A successful journalist’s world turns upside down when bodies pile up around him and he has to find a way out before it is too late.
Music: Ishaan Chhabra
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
Dhootha makes it a point to show the different sides of the spectrum in journalism and the police force. DCP Kranti Shenoy (an in-control Parvathy Thiruvothu), whose observation skills and knowledge of everyday tools and materials propel the investigation and the slimy Ajay Ghosh (Ravindra Vijay is pitch perfect) are all part of the system.
Those in the newsroom are also as diverse as they come — Amruta (Prachi Desai) as the personal assistant who changes colours to the righteous Chandra Murthy (Nagineedu) who is contrasted by his son.
The first sign of eeriness occurs on a rainy night in an isolated location. Though this might appear cliched, it works beautifully because of what happens in that location. A crossword in a torn piece of a newspaper warns of a fateful event. This narrative choice echoes Vikram’s Tamil film, Yaavarum Nalam (13B in Hindi), in which a television serial contributes to the eeriness.
Dhootha gets mysterious, darker and more interesting from the third episode. Naga Chaitanya portrays the several shades of Sagar with the required maturity. He has to remain nearly inscrutable to his family but fret in fear and anxiety over the danger that lurks at every corner. Chaitanya is on cue and pulls off a character that is not really likable as the narrative progresses.
Pasupathy and Tharun Bhascker Dhaassyam are interesting additions to the story as it begins to probe the past. While Pasupathy plays his part like a veteran, Tharun Bhascker measures up with surefootedness. There are several others who play smaller but crucial parts — Jeevan Kumar, Tanikella Bharani, Gowtham Krishna, Raghu Kunche, Gnaneswari Kandregula, Rohini and Anish Kuruvilla — and the writing uses all these characters to present the big picture of destiny and karma.
While all the smaller threads to the story are eventually tied up skilfully to give several characters a sense of closure, not everything hits a high note. It’s tough to discuss the closing episode without giving away major spoilers, but I wish not all character traits had to do with lineage in its discussion of the intersection of politics, police and journalism. However, this is just a niggle in the overall scheme of things.
Dhootha is a welcome addition to the Telugu digital space that derives its strength from meticulous writing, good performances and an able technical team that delivers.