Review: Kajal Aggarwal’s Live Telecast Can’t Even Scare A Toddler
A butter cookie to anyone who voluntarily watches this one.
Review: Kajal Aggarwal’s ‘Live Telecast’ Can’t Even Scare A Toddler
The first episode of Venkat Prabhu’s new Disney+ Hotstar series, Live Telecast, introduces its cast of characters in the most childish manner possible. The crew members of a make-believe horror show, titled Dark Tales, look into the camera and talk about what they do – from the writer to the editor, everybody makes a brief appearance as if to drive home the point that you’re going to see them more in the upcoming episodes.
Jennifer (Kajal Aggarwal) is the director, Sekar (Vaibhav) is the art director, Kalai (Anandhi) is the makeup artist, and Aravind (Daniel Annie Pope) is the anchor. The introductions go on like this for about half an hour and if that alone doesn’t tell you how banal Live Telecast is going to be, and you still wish to continue, then you deserve a butter cookie.
We’re almost living in the age of excess, where we are inundated with shows from all over the world every day. Why must we then voluntarily offer our sanity to the gallows of mediocrity?
When Prabhu made Chennai 600028 in 2007, he broadened the scope of buddy comedy in Tamil cinema and followed it up with the fantastic thriller Saroja. He’s known for his quirkiness, a rare quality that most of his peers do not possess. His characters always seem to have fun on the screen and you can, naturally, feel their energy. Yet, he has stumbled here and there. And in a career spanning 10+ years, that’s understandable. But watching Live Telecast and hoping that it’ll get better when the real ghost shows up is like expecting to be served gourmet food in a hospital. Your dream will never come true and you’ll just whine.
Perhaps, the only place where it turns interesting is when Jennifer and her gang are blamed for making a cheap-thrill episode for which they rope in a woman and focus the narrative on her sex appeal. This is the result of having to compete with another television channel that has a blockbuster formula in the form of a soap opera. Though Jennifer pulls off the oldest trick in the book to draw the most number of eyeballs to Dark Tales, viewers want it to be banned as it is aired on primetime. How can they watch the show with their family, they argue!
While the top executive washes his hands of the repercussions, Jennifer takes the heat. This is the kind of thing that happens behind closed doors and we, as outsiders, aren’t privy to such discussions. There are also some in-jokes about the television industry that are chuckle-worthy. Had Prabhu made a seven-episode series based on these pieces of information instead, it would have been different and, maybe, even enjoyable.
In order to get Dark Tales back on track, Jennifer comes up with a brilliant idea – to telecast an episode live from the chambers of a haunted house. Prabhu may have been inspired from the Korean found footage horror movie Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (2018). Of course, the setting was an asylum there and the crew, just like in this Tamil series, wanted to telecast the ghosts’ shenanigans live. But the similarities end there. And the mess that Live Telecastcreates is solely its own.
Anyway, what takes away the cake from Prabhu’s work of fiction is not the absence of terrific jump scares – sound effects can be added to heighten the tension. But since the script itself is dull, it doesn’t allow the actors to wiggle their way out of mundanity. Prabhu doesn’t provide his characters with the wherewithal to introspect, which makes it impossible for the cooped up people in the devil’s house to think out of the box.
American horror films have shown us that haunted houses are big and that there are quite a few empty spaces around the property. This gives an opportunity to the makers to spook the audiences with its vastness. If the houses are cramped, the cameramen and their assistants cannot run around with the equipment. This is a logistical disadvantage. It’s one of the reasons behind setting a horror movie in a mansion. Despite the largeness of the house you see in Live Telecast, it’s bereft of the ghost’s footprints – not footprints in general, but the parts that make up the ghost, like what makes it a scary entity and why should Jennifer and Co. stay away from it?
Prabhu even goes to the extent of giving a backstory to the ghost. After all, he didn’t care to explain the central character’s (played by Ajith) fixation on making money through illegal means in Mankatha (2011). Why did he have to do that now? When he had the gumption to make an A-list star play an anti-hero, why couldn’t he let a horror series be plainly scary and nothing else?
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