Vivek is the nominal comedian in Sai Bharath’s Rum, but he’s no match for the censors (or whichever board it is that slaps advisory texts on screen). We’re in a haunted house. It’s the usual assortment of people who witness strange goings-on, but don’t immediately pack their bags and flee. Soon enough, the ghosts descend. One of them turns particularly nasty. It tosses a man around like a rag doll, then lifts his leg and rotates it a full 180 degrees, so his foot ends up near the throat. We hear the sickening crunch of breaking bones. Blood gushes out. And at the corner of the screen, these letters appear: CGI.
Take this content-warning zeal to its natural conclusion, and soon there won’t be a scene that’s text-free. “This is just red liquid that looks like blood.” “These are not real bullets; the man is still alive; he’s just playing dead.” “The man and woman in this duet aren’t actually in love.”
Alas, till this scenario fructifies – and the day may not be far away – we have to make do with Vivek, who attempts to make us laugh by rhyming “foreign” with “urine” for the 8149th time. Here’s something else he does. He sees a woman from behind. He sizes her up. I mean, he really sizes her up. “36-24-36,” he says, and walks up to her. She turns, and Vivek gasps. She’s toothless. She’s old. This isn’t about ageism. This is about the fact that the “joke” just isn’t funny. And the fact that a film being sold as a heist/horror thriller cannot afford to keep cracking jokes (or cutting to Anirudh’s songs) instead of thickening the atmosphere with dread.
The heist is just the set-up. Rum is really just a standard-issue horror film. There’s a rocking chair that starts moving on its own. There’s a little boy with chalk-white makeup and racoon eyes. And there’s – I’ll admit – a semblance of invention. Day turns into night around the haunted house. A woman lies on top of a shaking bed, but as the camera peers below, she’s under the bed. And we get the old trick of a flashback unfolding in front of characters in the present day. (Along with Vivek, we have newcomer Hrishikesh and Sanchita Shetty. Narain plays a crooked cop.)
But the screenplay isn’t able to tie any of this together. Rum feels incoherent, and you wonder if it’s because the director was trying to be avant-garde, or whether he just ran out of film. The scene transitions are abrupt. The ending is literally up in the air. Early word said the title doesn’t mean what you think. It means “verdict.” They’re right. The film has no spirit.
- Rum = verdict
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