Most Indians have grown up watching Ssshhhh…Koi Hai, Aahat, Vikraal aur Gabraal, everything that the Ramsay Brothers made, Ram Gopal Varma’s films (before he became weird), Raaz, and of course, Manichitrathazhu. So, it’s weird that all we’re getting nowadays are half-hearted attempts at supernatural scares or ones that use the genre to send a societal message. I’m okay with the latter, as it has given us Stree, Bhediya, and Tooth Pari. My issue is with the former, which has led to stuff like Boo, Virupaksha, Gaslight, Blurr, Chhorii, Dybbuk, Boomika, Laxmii, The Priest, Bulbbul, Bhoot Police, Bhoot: The Haunted Ship, Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, and so many more. Tumbbad, Andhaghaaram, and Churuli are the rare exceptions. But going by the theatrical success of Evil Dead Rise and the heavily edited The Pope’s Exorcist in India (or at least my town), it showed that we’ve an appetite for good, visceral, and pulpy horror. Yet, here we are with another boring entry into the bland-as-hell Indian horror hall of fame, i.e., Adhura.
Created by Ananya Banerjee and Gauravv K. Chawla, Adhura is set in the Nilgiri Valley School. The former dean of the institution, Vyas, is found dead right before the reunion of the 2007 batch, thereby tensing up the already cold and cloudy atmosphere of the place. A shy and meek student named Vedant is being bullied by Sarthak, Kabir, and Dhruv. Although the current Dean, KC Swamy, advises Vedant’s parents to let him live with them, they refuse the proposal because they think he’s the school’s responsibility now. One night, Vedant is locked in a closet by the usual suspects and is possessed by what seems to be the spirit of the ex-Dean Vyas. The focus then shifts to the 2007 batch, whose main players are Adhiraj, Malvika, Suyash, Rajat, and Dev. Adhiraj is a teacher in the USA. Malvika is married to Dev, who is a pretty rich guy, which causes Malvika to be labeled as a “trophy wife.” Suyash is an out-of-luck TV actor. Rajat is a salesperson who sells water purifiers. There’s one person who is mysteriously missing from the picture, though, and that is Ninad Raman. However, through the course of Adhura, it becomes increasingly clear that he’s integral to the narrative.
I don’t know why I’m trying to be discreet about the importance of Ninad when the trailers, posters, and “viral marketing” posts for Adhura have pretty much spoiled his connection to one of the main characters. But if you somehow avoid all of that and sit down to watch the show, hoping that there’s going to be some big twist around Ninad, they reveal that as well in the first episode itself! Then you’ll start to reason with yourself that maybe that’s the whole point of the reveal. Maybe the show doesn’t want us to sit in anticipation for some big surprise and instead marinate in the repercussions of what has transpired. Maybe that’s why they are getting the revelation out of the way. I’m here to tell you that that’s not the case at all. By getting the proverbial cat out of the bag too early and flailing around with hollow, unlikable characters, Banerjee and Chawla give the audience nothing to chew on. They throw in some surface-level takes on homophobia and even postpartum depression at one point and think they are so radical that they don’t need to come up with anything impactful. Not a single line of dialogue, not a single pivotal moment, and not a single character stayed with me.
In fact, this is a message to everyone who is making a show or a movie in India: please stop talking about homophobia and the abuse that queer folks face if you can’t come up with any positive representation for the LGBTQ+ community. It seems like the Hindi entertainment industry has spent a whole lot of time stereotyping queer people, and now they’re digging into the abuse they face without even addressing the source of the homophobia. Films like Badhaai Do, Loev, Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, and Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui are barely getting to normalize gay relationships. But in Adhura, they are portrayed as vengeful monsters who kill indiscriminately, and in School of Lies, their queerness is linked to molestation, and they are portrayed as violent criminals. Even the Fear Street trilogy, which had queer vengeance at its center, had positive representation to critique the bigotry. What are these shows doing in that department? Nothing. I’m not saying that queer people do not face physical and mental assaults. However, that’s not all there is to them. The imbalance between the intensity of the violence inflicted upon the queer characters and the normalcy of their queerness makes it seem that the creators are just using the community for a shallow gimmick and indulging in scenes where they are being abused.
Since I’ve started talking about the influences in Adhura, let’s continue with that. Jon Wright’s Tormented has a similar plot, and the show and the movie kind of share the same final twist. Vedant seems to be a mixture of every horror movie kid. But if we are being specific, The Omen and Stranger Things have been referenced. In addition to all that, going by the queer factor, I’ll say it even has a bit of The Sleepaway Camp and Carrie in it. However, if you take a gander through any of the aforementioned titles, you’ll notice that they have a clear visual style. Well, to be frank, you can see what’s going on in them, and you can feel the impact of what you’re seeing. In this show, cinematographer Srija Chaurasia and the creators have made the mistake of thinking that dark visuals should be synonymous with dark themes. For the umpteenth time, your show (or movie) can be properly lit despite its heavy themes! You don’t have to make the viewer squint at the screen to see what’s going on when they’re already having a hard time understanding why the subject matter is being treated in such a stupid way. Just turn on the lights! In addition to that, the music is bad. The editing is horrendous. The scares aren’t scary. The suspense isn’t suspenseful. The sound mixing is dreadful. The kills lack any impact. There are a few scenes involving destruction and wire pulls that are competent.
Then there are the performances that don’t help with the Adhura viewing experience at all. Ishwak Singh is fine. He tries to give his character some depth with an accurate portrayal of anxiety. But there’s only so much one can do with an audience surrogate. Rasika Dugal is good. Her eyes do a better job of conveying what her character is going through than the lines that she has to utter. Rahul Dev, who arrives late into the game, is casually magnetic. Zoa Morani, despite the limitations of her character, is alright. The rest of the cast of Adhura is simply atrocious. Like always, I’m going to give the kids and teenagers a free pass because, at the end of the day, they are kids and teenagers. If they want to pursue acting and improve their craft, they should. The adults don’t have that advantage. Rijul Ray is awful. His dialogue delivery is so bad that it seems like he has a text-to-speech translator installed in his throat. Sahil Salathia is annoying, and not in a “that’s what the character needed” way. The same can be said about Aru Krishansh Verma. Jaimini Pathak is in a different show altogether as his reverence for the holy turns into parody. K.C. Shankar and Pawan Singh are so underutilized. Everyone else is free to accept my apologies for not recalling if they did anything memorable in the show.
In conclusion, as a horror fan, I don’t deserve to sit through sludge like Adhura. I deserve better. I’ll take over-the-top swings at the fence instead of this drab affair. I’ll tolerate the most thematically inconsistent stories if they have even a second of visual flair. I’ll take your wildest concepts when it comes to ghosts, ghouls, and demons if they are original and not derivative. Heck, I’ll pardon bad visuals if the story has the power to move me emotionally. However, I won’t give brownie points to Adhura for simply trying. Those making these kinds of properties clearly have all the resources. They just do not have the talent. If you consider yourself to be a lover of all things horror, please stray away from this show and venture towards something better. There’s a new installment of Insidious out in the theaters. Maybe try that out because it’s good. That’s just my opinion though. If you want to give Adhura a try, do so at your own risk and let us know what you think of it.