Adhura(Prime Video, 7 episodes)
It is difficult to come away from the seven episodes of Adhura without a queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach. Its ambience, a posh boarding school, and the theme of campus bullying reminded me of another recent webseries Avinash Arun’s School Of Lies which was darker, more oppressive ominous and lurid.
There is a sexual energy in Adhura too never fully explored, as the co-directors Ananya Banerjee and Gauravv K Chawla don’t seem interested in examining the psyche of bullying beyond the rudimentaries. The stage for an eerie excursion is set from the start. The corridors of the boarding school and the locker rooms are painted in sinister tones, as one of the boys Vedant(Shrenik Arora, remarkable) is trapped in a locker by the boys.
Mysterious footsteps approach and release Vedant. This is as spooky as the series gets.There is potential here for a masterful muddle mystery,alas squandered in superfluous tone-deaf storytelling. Too much time is spent in over-explaining the eerie elements, thereby rendering it denuded of all intrigue.
The drama unfolds at an old boys’ reunion at the boarding school where Adhiraj Jaisingh(Ishwak Singh, so endearing in Rocket Boys here rendered as a bundle of nerves, more confounded than confounding) shows up at an Indian hillstation from the US. Adhiraj has a deep connection with the ghost that prowls on the academic premises.
Weirdly, no one makes a run for their moaning. They just stay put at the boarding school watching their friends getting killed. No one says, ‘Enough,let’s leave’. They just hang around waiting to be struck dead.
Just goes to show, acting stupid is an essential part of Indian horror shows. And the characters here are more guilty of daft behaviour than expected. Rasika Duggal who plays the resident counsellor(like Nimrat Kaur in School Of Lies) actually takes the troubled possessed little boy home with her; her explanation being, she couldn’t leave him with the other kids at the boarding school to be bullied.
Duggal is never an incapable actor. Here her character seems stuck in a skeptical space never fully able to extract itself from the actress’ rational bearing. The very talented Rahul Dev shows up belatedly in Episode 4 as a cocky inspector who thumbs his nose at the lawbook and swears by his instincts.
Admittedly Adhura has its share of jump scares, especially when the ghost of a bullied gay teenager stalks the guests. Moral of the story: beware of making insensitive homophobic remarks. You may end up with your limbs so twisted you look like an octopus doing yoga.
The head count far exceeds the plot’s presence of mind. And yet Adhura works in parts for its predisposition to derive an atmospheric pressure from random sounds and sights.
It’s only when the ghost makes himself visible that we realize, the spirit of shared scares is scarce here. There is too much stress on creating a stressful environment. ‘Let’s scare the hell out of them’ is fine. But at what cost?