Bhoothakaalam: Shane Nigam Is Back With A Layered Supernatural Thriller

Bhoothakaalam review: 4.25/5

I was mindlessly scrolling through YouTube last week when I chanced upon a trailer recommendation: that of Bhoothakaalam, directed by Rahul Sadasivan and starring Shane Nigam and Revathy in lead roles. What?! Shane Nigam and Revathy – two actors from two completely different generations, whom I’d never envisioned in a project together – are in a film together? The trailer in itself was well-cut, slick, and more importantly, promised a good thriller. 

The YouTube caption said: Releasing on Sony Liv on 21st January. I looked at my watch and said to myself – “That’s literally five days from now! How is this film not in the buzzometer yet? Are people even aware this is in the pipeline?

Bhoothakaalam is surely a clever title because it suggests that maybe its literal meaning (‘past’) and a sub-part of the word (‘bhootham’) hold relevance in the plot. Does the title tint the viewers, making them expect a certain kind of film as they enter? Does it stay true to it, or does it deceive them? Find out for yourself. The film is available on Sony Liv: do check it out. After reading this review, of course! (No spoilers here. Don’t worry.)

Plot of Bhoothakaalam

Asha (Revathy) and her son Vinu (Shane) aren’t on the best of terms. Vinu is a D.Pharm graduate who has not been able to secure a job “due to family reasons”. Asha meanwhile, is a clinically depressed widow who teaches at a primary school. The death of Asha’s mother – whom she regarded as a close confidante – pushes her into deeper misery. Meanwhile, Vinu starts hearing and seeing things in the house every night. Will he be able to convince his mother – and the world – that he is not hallucinating? Or…is he?

Also Read: Mental Health Representations in Malayalam Cinema

Nuanced Performances

Amidst all the thrills and chills, acting chops is something that’s often overlooked in films that toy with horror. But here, the characterisation of the lead actors is meaty enough to demand impactful performances, and both Shane and Revathy deliver the goods with aplomb. 

Shane’s eyes have a rare quality of expressing vulnerability with just a blink, and he uses them effectively to convey the confusion and frustration that Vinu goes through as the film progresses. Meanwhile, Asha is more interesting from a character study point-of-view. She is eternally brooding and disturbed, and yet she works in a nursery – a place where cheerfulness towards kids is almost an unsaid prerequisite. It is also ironic that a character with no radiance or hope in her eyes is named “Asha” (which also happens to be Revathy’s real name!). Revathy’s performance is so well-layered that viewers will find it difficult to take a stand and decide whether she is being a self-centred sinister mother or not. I really hope she does more Malayalam films. 

Bhoothakaalam: Shane Nigam Is Back With A Layered Supernatural Thriller

There is also Saiju Kurup, who plays the ‘straight man’ trope in this mix (because why should we use this term only for comedy films?!). His character plays an important role in unearthing the ‘bhoothakaalam’ that becomes the foundation of the plot, and he does his job with ease.

Also Read: Malayalam Movie Tropes From The 90s

The Use of “Horror” in Bhoothakaalam

Is Bhoothakaalam an out-and-out horror film? I’d refuse to believe so. But does it have the typical horror tropes – we’re talking jumpscares, self-moving objects, dark silhouettes and an eerie tale from the past? Yes. So….what is it, exactly?

Bhoothakaalam: Shane Nigam Is Back With A Layered Supernatural Thriller

At the core of it, Bhoothakaalam is an intense drama that focuses on the course of the relationship between a lady, her mother and her son. It is also a commentary on how mental health is still seen as taboo, and how abnormal behaviour is handled with insensitivity and disdain by many people. And above all, this is a drama that centres on a specific kind of fear – the fear that one would not be understood even by the people that they love.

This core element – which arguably derives some inspiration from Thaniyavarthanam – and the character arcs themselves instil a sense of fear and helplessness in the viewer, and I believe that the horror elements are just an icing on the cake, that underlines this feeling in an attempt to leave the audiences spooked at the end of it all.

Also Read: Thaniyavarthanam: A Psychological Analysis

Coming to the horror tropes, there isn’t anything out of the ordinary in their execution. Horror genre fans may be able to predict the beats of these tropes and hence, may be able to sit through the film unscathed. But again, considering my theory that maybe the film shouldn’t be seen as just-a-horror-flick, I think this lack of originality can be excused.

Bhoothakaalam: Shane Nigam Is Back With A Layered Supernatural Thriller

As the end credits rolled, I remembered the old-but-gold article that Shahabas had written in 2019: “The Real Reason Why We Don’t Have Good Malayalam Horror Movies”. It was a genuine lament by a fan, about how Malayalam cinema – despite its technical strides owing to the New Wave – had not made significant progress in the horror genre. Shahabas, if you’re reading this (of course you are), you’ll be happy to know that Bhoothakaalam is a small but sure step forward for the genre in Kerala – purely for how it uses the genre to good effect.

Fitting Acoustic Arrangements

A film that aims to spook, should not only be visually spooky but also have the right sounding. The background score by Gopi Sundar does exactly that – never going over the top (is this really the man who scored Shylock?!), always sitting in tandem with your pulse rate and creating a tingling sense of uncertainty throughout. A special mention also needs to be given to the sound design by Vicky and Kishan that adds to the eerie atmosphere, especially in the night sequences at Vinu’s house where he “hears” certain sounds.

Also Read: Times when Revathi made us fall in love with her fashion!

I also wanted to talk about the song Raa Thaarame – a vibrant number written, composed and sung by Shane Nigam. As it played before me, it felt out of place amidst the otherwise dull proceedings. But as the film progressed, the visuals of the song – which show us Vinu’s softer side – somewhere manipulate us into rooting for him, even as all odds begin to stack up against him. 

To sum it up…

There are a lot of things I want to say, but that would invade into spoiler territory, so I’m going to wrap it up here. Bhoothakaalam marks the strong comeback of two bonafide performers, announces the arrival of a name to look out for – Rahul Sadasivan – and in effect, becomes the first memorable film of the year. Do watch and share your thoughts in the comments below!

Navaneethakrishnan Unnikrishnan
When I'm not working or sleeping, I'm mostly observing people and making notes on my phone for content. (Hope to be) Your go-to man for laughs, good music and useless trivia around movies.

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