Ardha Shathabdham Movie Review: An underwhelming drama where caste violence gets a silly treatment

The first half of 'Ardha Shatabdham' goes about the business of telling a cliched love story with little awareness about the simmering caste fault lines in Siricilla in Andhra Pradesh (the film is set in the year 2003).
Ardha Shathabdham movie review Ardha Shathabdham Movie Review: An underwhelming drama where caste violence gets a silly treatment
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Title: Ardha Shatabdham

Cast: Karthik Rathnam, Krishna Priya, Sai Kumar and others

Director: Rawindra Pulle 

Rating: 2/5

What do you call a film that questions the ugly social reality of birth-based occupation embedded in the caste system and then proceeds to sort of romanticizing village life, where many jobs are done by people only because of the caste they were born into? The first half of 'Ardha Shatabdham' goes about the business of telling a cliched love story with little awareness about the simmering caste fault lines in Siricilla in Andhra Pradesh (the film is set in the year 2003). And when the plot thickens, the cardboard characters robotically go about unleashing massacres with a vengeance.

There is a bigger tragedy in the film than the unrelenting caste riots. One guest describes the riots as 'lolli' as though it is a small disturbance. There is carnage happening outside and some laughably written characters are totally unfazed. One mother gets melodramatic, an extra-marital sexcapade plays out, a young man playfully croons an Ilaiyaraaja song as if to elicit from the bewildered audience a rare laugh. Then there is the unseemly sight of a decision-maker sitting in an AC room and dishing out anthropological and history lessons to a stunned Superintendent of Police. 

It's nobody's complaint that the film doesn't have a strong story. It didn't need one. There was enough scope in its very social appeal, in the complex character played by Sai Kumar (who is a former Maoist with his own pettiness and a somewhat over-possessive father), in the recurring theme of honour and the unending stream of caste-based killings. But the film merely scratches the surface.

Casting character artists with a generic image is a blunder that should have been avoided. Raja Ravindra, Aamani and Pavithra Lokesh don't bring much value to the table. Ajay, again, proves to be ineffective in the role of a top cop. Naveen Chandra, who has an image for playing a variety of roles, is somewhat of a good fit. Sai Kumar is not cast to type and his heavy-duty character is a mild throwback to the one we saw in 'Prasthanam' (minus the gravitas). 

The characters look frozen and the moral dilemmas are not properly fleshed out. Tribal loyalties trump humanity, but everything plays out in a bland fashion. On the one hand, we have acclaimed movies like 'Karnan' (Tamil), which too dealt with the subject of caste violence. On the other hand, we have an 'Ardha Shatabdham', where a sociological catastrophe pans out like in a regular film.

Karthik Rathnam plays a lover boy who gets too many songs dedicated to his routine character. In fact, the film over-indulges his love story, which is elementary in any case. The girl who has swept him off his feet doesn't come off as the Goddess he needs to die for. She is placed in cliched scenes. She dances in the rain, she goes to the temple to unwittingly give him her 'darshan', she goes to a 'jatara'... These are the kind of scenes we have seen for ages.  

Amidst all this, the characters make their inner turmoil too obvious. Which makes the film all the more mediocre. 

Watch movie trailer below: