Akashaganga II: A horror film that fails to scare

It’s been 20 years since the release of Vinayan’s Akashaganga, the horror-comedy that was a super-hit at the box-office—and it seemed like the nostalgia factor was working in favour of the film for the hall was crowded. The film was a turning point in the career of director Vinayan, who was known for his comedy films till then.

The film had a done-to-death story of a vengeful spirit of a woman wreaking havoc on an affluent family but it worked because of the script by Benny P Nayarambalam and the performances of stalwarts like Sukumari, Rajan P Dev, Jagadeesh, Innocent, Mukesh, Kalabhavan Mani, Kalpana and Jagathi Sreekumar. Packaged with good comedy, music and horror moments, the film was a decent entertainer and went on to become a super-hit. The same cannot be said about the sequel.

Arathi (Veena Nair, not to be confused with the serial actor) is the daughter of Unni (Riyaz) and Mayamma (Divya Unni). An avowed atheist and a medical student at a private college, Arathi leads a happy life. She is in love with her classmate Gopi (Vishnu Vinay) and hangs out with her friends. She does not buy into the stories of demonic possession and vengeful spirit that killed off most of her family members including her mother who died in childbirth.

Intrigued by a friend’s claim that he was able to speak to his dead father at the ashram of occult practitioner Soumini Devi (Ramya Krishnan), Arathi decides to try it out. She gets to speak to her mother, leading her to actions that released the spirit of Ganga (Mayoori), who has turned into an extremely powerful Chudala Yakshi, from the magical confines set by the exorcist Meppadan (Rajan P Dev). Rest of the film is about Arathi’s struggles against the machinations of the demon who has vowed to decimate her family completely.

The biggest issue here is the story and script. Written by the director himself, the script fails to build tension and intrigue. The key to a good horror film is always maintaining an atmosphere of dread and to scare the audience when they least expect it. It is not an easy task in today’s world as most people are desensitised to jump scares and CGI monsters.

And Vinayan fails to bring anything new to the table. The horror scenes failed to terrify, and the shoddy CGI made it pathetic. Repeating the tropes resulted in unintentional humour. The dialogues were poorly written, and the comedy was passable. The underwhelming climax also plugs the possibility of another sequel. And that is a dreadful thought.

The second issue was with the cast. Newbie Veena and the director’s son Vishnu played the lead pair to average results. There was no chemistry between the two, much like in the original where a Divya struggled to perform opposite the wooden Riyaz. Veena struggled in the scenes of possession and exorcism. Vishnu is good compared to Riyaz, and that’s not much of a compliment.

The supporting cast in the original was its biggest strength. The same cannot be said about the sequel. Though the film has comedians like Salim Kumar, Dharmajan Bolgatty, Tesni Khan, Senthil Krishna and Harish Kanaran, they were sadly let down by a lousy script. Benny’s script wove in sexual repression and allied issues with wit and flair. Vinayan’s jokes were mostly pedestrian. Music in the original by Berni-Ignatius had some good numbers; Bijibal does not impress in the sequel.

Vinayan is a maverick of sorts and a self-taught director who took big risks with varying results. He launched the careers of Divya Unni and Jayasurya and revamped Kalabhavan Mani’s image as a comedian to that of a lead actor. Though he started off with comedy, Vinayan shifted gears after the success of Akashaganga and Vasanthiyum, Lakshmiyum Pinne Njanum to tear-jerkers and action films. His over-reliance on gimmickry, shoddy CGI and abusive representation of disabilities led to a dip in his career. Issues with industry fraternities compounded problems. He kept making films, but they were all badly received by critics and audience.

Last year’s Chalakkudikaran Changathi, a biopic of Kalabhavan Mani, has led to mini-revival in his career. He has announced projects with Mammooty, Mohanlal and Jayasurya. But if Akashaganga II is any indication, the director still has to get his act straight.

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