Ashok’s Durgamati: The Myth is a faithful remake of his Telugu hit Bhaagamathie (2018). The horror-tinged thriller channels the spirit of the Malayalam blockbuster Manichithrathazhu but borrows its big idea from a cult Hollywood film whose name shall remain a secret.
A murder convict is brought to a remote mansion for an off-the-books interrogation. It is rumoured to be haunted, and soon after Chanchal enters the place, strange things begin to happen. Chanchal starts to behave oddly – her body jerks backwards as though she is being dragged by an unseen force and her voice changes. Is she possessed by Durgamati, the ancient queen whose spirit is said to still lurk about?
The officer who has brought Chanchal to the black site is unconvinced. Chanchal (Bhumi Pednekar) is an Indian Administrative Service officer who is serving time for killing her husband Shakti (Karan Kapadia). Chanchal used to be the personal secretary of the messianic minister Ishwar Prasad (Arshad Warsi). Ishwar is taking his own government to task for failing to nab a gang stealing idols from temples.
A minister deploys Central Bureau of Investigation officer Satakshi (Mahie Gill) to frame Ishwar for the idol thefts. Her team includes the police officer Abhay (Jisshu Sengupta). They hope to prise Ishwar’s secrets from Chanchal.
Ashok’s Hindi-language version barely tinkers with the original. The names of several characters are the same. The shot compositions are identical to the original in many scenes. The jump scares and spooky sound effects are delivered at about the same places. The cobwebs that abounded in the original have mercifully been cleaned up.
Yet, the new movie isn’t as slick or atmospheric as its source. The climactic twist is as implausible. Durgamati The Myth also suffers from the lack of a heroine who can suggest the comportment of a warrior queen. Bhumi Pednekar is barely convincing in either avatar. She doesn’t have the gravitas of the original film’s heroine Anushka Shetty, and isn’t skilled enough to ham convincingly when in possession mode
None of the other performances is noteworthy, with the movie working purely on the basis of judiciously scattered red herrings, scary moments and its big revelation. The movie demands suspension of disbelief, but not where you expect it – its smartest trick, which has been lifted from that Hollywood film that we may not name.