May the Almighty have mercy on us: Hollywood actor Michael Madsen has appeared in his first Indian production. Given the fun he has staggering about and rattling off cod dialogue, it might not be the last.

The lush-faced actor’s irrepressible screen persona, best channelled by Quentin Tarantino in Reservoir Dogs and Kill Bill: Volume 2, proves insurmountable for the director of the Telugu-language Nishabdham. Madsen’s every scene in the Amazon Prime Original movie is a hoot. He plays a Seattle Police Department officer who swears at the world in general and his ex-wife in particular. He calls himself Richard Dawkins, while everybody else refers to him as Richard Dickens.

Is the famously eccentric actor taking the piss? Has he divined that for all its gloss, Nishabdham is really a B-movie? Perhaps we’ll know if he ever writes a memoir.

Director Hemanth Madhukar’s ambitious screenplay ties together a haunted villa, the case of a missing woman, and the murder of a reputed musician, described as one of America’s biggest entertainers. Anthony (R Madhavan) and Sakshi (Anushka Shetty) appear to be the picture of bliss – until the day the deaf-and-mute Sakshi insists on dragging Anthony to an unoccupied house that is rumoured to be haunted by the owner’s ghost.

Sakshi, an artist, wants to see a painting that lies in the mansion’s cellar. Anthony ends up impaled on a wall, and Sakshi barely manages to escape.

Was Anthony sent to his death by a malevolent spirit or a vengeful human? Is the doe-eyed Sakshi as innocent as she claims to be? And what about Sonali (Shalini Pandey), Sakshi’s ultra-possessive bestie who is missing and hasn’t yet been located?

Seattle police detective Maha (Anjali) gets to work. She has her task cut out for her – she has to deal with her boss Richard and navigate past Sakshi’s secrets, but she manages just fine.

Michael Madsen in Nishabdham. Courtesy People Media Factory/KFC/Amazon Prime Video.

Anushka Shetty and R Madhavan too wind their way through the preposterous plot without causing much damage. Subbaraju plays Sakshi’s hunky photographer friend, who is conveniently Telugu-speaking and knows sign language too.

The title translates into silence, but there’s a great deal of blathering. A voiceover tells us what to think and expect and a background score tells us how to feel. As the suspense evaporates, Michael Madsen pops up from time to time to provide inadvertent comic relief, but the movie is actually always better when he isn’t around. It’s not just Hollywood that stereotypes Indian characters and doesn’t quite know what to do with Indian talent – we can be equal offenders too, as Nishabdham proves.

Nishabdham (2020).