Bhargavi Nilayam is that classic horror film that practically sets the tone for almost all horror films in Malayalam. The cliches we now talk about in horror films were introduced to the Malayalam industry by this film. In fact, virtually all the female ghost horror films in Malayalam were various iterations of Bhargavi Nilayam at different times with distinct sensibilities. So when it comes to remaking a film that primarily gave a skeleton to a genre, the creative liberties are pretty tricky. While Aashiq Abu succeeded in making the film a more visually captivating experience, the writing and performance struggle to reinvent the cheesiness in the dialogues to be in sync with the sensibilities of a generation who might not have seen the original.
The story was set in 1961, and a renowned writer moves to this new town. He gets this abandoned mansion named Bhargavi Nilayam to stay. From the native people, the writer realizes he is now staying in this haunted house where a young girl named Bhargavi committed suicide after her lover cheated on her. Unwilling to swallow the story completely, our protagonist decides to investigate on his own. What we see in Neelavelicham is his theories about what probably might have happened with Bhargavi.
The humor of Vaikom Muhammad Basheer in today’s day and age is tough to pull off in a movie. It is not something entirely in words but also the way it sounds in our heads. He places sophisticated words in the most common conversations to make them very lighthearted for the viewer. You need an element of grace and enthusiasm to make those Basheerian lines work on the silver screen. While they succeeded remarkably in building the world in the most genuine way possible, I found the conversations lacking that finesse.
As a filmmaker, Aashiq Abu clearly has a vision of how his version of Bhargavi Nilayam should look. The wide aspect ratio gives breathing space to the whole film, and Neelavelicham is not that jumpscare heavy. Even in a sequence where the protagonist is shivering in fear, we are shown the liberated and happy side of the ghost. The visual effects we see in the film are also not overtly flashy like in a Vinayan film. That dream sequence where Bhargavi wakes up to the sound of a train passing by her bed was spectacular in terms of imagination and execution.
The production design and visual effects have done a stellar job of building a believable world. Girish Gangadharan gets to put static and slow-moving frames in the film, and he manages to register the emotional state of characters through frames and the color and lighting levels. After a long gap, V Saajan, who teams up with Aashiq Abu, sets a tidy tempo to the whole narrative. The recreated versions of the old songs in this film haven’t really spoiled the soul of the originals.
As I already said, Basheer’s humor is a tricky thing. While Tovino Thomas looked apt and showed confidence in being that curious soul, the charm one wishes to see in dialogue delivery was not there. When the writer says the ghost won’t do anything to him as he is also a romantic, the enthusiasm is not that palpable. As Bhargavi, Rima Kallingal fits the part when she is ferocious and dancing. But the romantic aspect is a bit flimsy, mainly due to how they stuck to a written set of lines. Even the highly talented Roshan Mathew struggles to pull off the sugary lines in those sequences, which were a tribute to Mathilukal. In my opinion, the most effective and neatly reinvented conversation scenes were between Roshan Mathew’s Sasikumar and Shine Tom Chacko’s Nanukuttan. Even though Shine was in his typical eccentric space, the character somewhere demanded that loudness.
Co-written by Hrishikesh Bhaskaran, Aashiq Abu has tried to make this a tribute to Vaikom Muhammad Basheer by infusing elements from his classics like Mathilukal, Anuragathinte Dhinangal, etc. All those efforts and how they gave a great visual appeal to a black-and-white film justify their intention. But the inability to reinvent the old-school cheesiness in writing restricts the movie from being a compelling adaptation.
While they succeeded remarkably in building the world in the most genuine way possible, I found the conversations lacking that finesse.
Green: Recommended Content
Orange: The In-Between Ones
Red: Not Recommended