In the midst of all the drama, deception and shifting dynamics of power (with the ghost of Bhaagamathie lingering close), this is a film that flits cleverly between genres. Clearly, it’s a delight for Telugu audiences who love their love stories, can’t do without the good winning over the bad and have come to enjoy slapstick in horror.
Again, this is not your quintessential supernatural thriller, with too much screaming and precious little silence, taking the chill off the fear. It is also not your usual revenge drama steeped in the closure of unfinished business, déjà vus from past lives and peace finally being restored in an old mansion full of dense cobwebs and mystical portraits. The real baddies here are far away from the haunted house. But that’s another story.
Even if you get all other elements together on one side and Shetty on the other, the scales precariously balance in the beginning and surely tip over towards her as the mystery gets deeper, and finally unspools in the second half. She clearly emerges the hero, having by now perfected the art of bringing to life queens from history, real and imagined.
At less than three inches short of six feet, Shetty stands tall among southern heroines taking up the mantle of defeating demons and defying death. She relives queen Bhaagamathie, like she did with Arundhati (2009), replete with a raging wilderness and fiery bloodshot eyes. She brings back the courage and grit from Rudramadevi (2015) in which she played a man in a big chunk of screen time and the exceptionally brave Queen Rudramma of the 13th century Kakatiya dynasty. Like in Baahubali: The Beginning (2015), she is a prisoner in Bhaagamathie, too, but holds the same restrained confidence despite the shackles and smirks aplenty in the face of real culprits.
She wields the sword with all the polished ease of princess Devasena from Baahubali: The Conclusion (2017); it’s actually a bit disappointing not to see more of the period drama bit in the film.
These shades to her performance are not monotonous, rather a personal signature of sorts by now, earning her respect among critics, audiences and her male co-stars. The director of Bhaagamathie, G Ashok, had reportedly said in an interview that he waited almost five years for Anushka Shetty to come on board for this project. And we would say, it was certainly worth the wait.
PS: Somehow Bhagamati turned into Bhaagamathie but certainly not Bhagmat!