In Dhootha (Messenger), Telugu actor Naga Chaitanya makes his streaming debut as a morally corrupt journalist. Chaitanya’s Sagar heads a newspaper where it is an accepted practice to be seek money to publish news items from interested parties. In his personal life too, Sagar is unscrupulous, bribing a police officer to carry his dirty laundry.
Newspapers feature prominently in the eight-episode Telugu series on Prime Video. Writer-director Vikram K Kumar has crafted an entertaining show that justifies its suspension-of-disbelief demand.
Dhootha is set in rain-spattered Vishakhapatnam. A series of baffling suicides is traced to a set of clues straight from the analogue era. Scraps of newspapers are sent to victims predicting their fate in exacting detail. These concocted news reports find their way to Sagar, terrorising him, his pregnant wife Neha (Priya Bhavani Shanker) and their daughter Anjali.
Might this be the work of a malevolent spirit – but if so, why?
Sagar has a valuably ally in his personal assistant Amrutha (Prachi Desai). Police officer Kranti (Parvathy Thiruvothu) is less impressed by Sagar, seeing through his self-serving ways. The show’s version of Dana Scully, Kranti begins digging up Sagar’s secrets, even as he conducts a parallel investigation into his tormentor’s motives.
Although brilliant at deduction, Kranti doesn’t look into the source of the newsprint used to produce the newspapers until much later. Vikram Kumar uses Kranti’s unusual lapse to tighten the noose around Sagar, raise questions about media ethics and reveal previously unknown facets of characters.
Despite being too long and avoidably overwrought at times, Dhootha is a skilled time killer. The back story for the crimes rewinds to more innocent times, when journalists were not mocked as “presstitutes” and editors pursued justice rather than their own interests.
Naga Chaitanya, who ably plays the amoral journalist, and Priya Bhavani Shanker are overstretched in terms of their emotional arcs. Prachi Desai, who is not cast as frequently as she should be, is impressive. Parvathy Thiruvothu is a powerful presence, joining the dots with much-needed calm.