An overloaded and overly long script obscures the merits of a decent supernatural concept

Director: Innasi Pandiyan

Cast: Arulnithi, Pavithra Marimuthu, Kishore Kumar G, V Jayaprakash

from Arulnithi Diary seems like a film written backwards. It’s a thriller with lots of supernatural elements thrown in and it forces us to hold onto big information for a long time, only for it to make sense when the twists are revealed. But the problem with Diary isn’t just that it’s written around one or two major twists. There are plenty of them and they’re headed our way from the 1 hour mark with a new reveal arriving every 10 minutes or so. At first, you’re amused that it took so long for these ideas to finally come to fruition. By the third big reveal, it seems too coincidental to feel real. And by the fourth or fifth twist, you don’t care because anything can happen at any time.

It is usually sentiment that dilutes some of the striking ideas in Diary. My favorite of these is the concept of a haunted bus with a mysterious group of passengers traveling on the last bus out of Ooty. Each passenger has a story and a purpose, and it’s made more interesting when it feels like a mix of genres on the bus itself with an investigation, comedy, romance, and horror movie playing all at once.

Individually, each of these elements seems too basic to really make a difference. The comedy’s subplot, for example, is of a man who cracks one joke after another as he walks off with his lover the night before his wedding. On the other side, the drama of a young couple on the run after the girl’s deputy father sends goons to kill them. Take the case of this young couple to explain why we never feel anything for them. They are a couple whose fate is supposed to be the emotional basis of the whole film. They are young and serious and they run away from a group of people who will surely murder them. But the second the couple start to open up, they’re also dumb enough to reveal that they came with a big bag of gold, with the exact amount. Now, when the couple themselves are naive enough to risk their lives with this information, we don’t care if they stay alive or not.

This is generally the case with all the characters in the film. With the screenplay format obsessed with the next big twist, it forgets to emphasize bringing these characters to life. They should have felt real for us to take care of them, but they’re just doing their own thing without caring why they’re doing it. And you feel it most in the excruciatingly long first hour, when the plot is set. A sub-inspector-in-training (Arulnithi) randomly chooses an unsolved case to investigate as his first assignment. He meets a cute police inspector, they fall in love, we get a basic AF love song, and they also start investigating before the plot begins with the haunted bus. With random events such as a man stealing this officer’s car forced into the storyline for those events to begin, there’s too much early silliness for us to take the film seriously.

But when our defenses are down and the film willingly abandons any effort to stay logical, there’s fun in the fun. One particular twist felt surprisingly original even if you feel annoyed that they didn’t do more with the idea. It’s also a movie that pulls together too many different strands to make a bigger point, which makes it cluttered and tiring. With a little more care and a wiser choice of subplots, we wouldn’t have to wait for the plot twists alone to get to the point. With loud and frustrating performances, silly dialogue and a general void in the way it’s written, Diary isn’t quite the page-turner it so easily could have been. A movie about a haunted bus crossing the ghats at midnight had to be way more fun than that.