Anup Bhandari's Vikrant Rona contains a few elements we found in the writer-director's first film, RangiTaranga. Supernatural happenings in a place named Kamarottu. A tragedy involving a well. References to a demon named Brahmaraksasha. An investigation into who or what is behind the mystery. And most interestingly, people who are not who they seem to be. But what's different is the presence of superstar Kichcha Sudeepa. This necessitates a "mass" flavour that results in a film that's half-and-half: about fifty present of Vikrant Rona is a fan-service vehicle, filled with sentimental songs, a badly placed item number, slo-mo action sequences, and a whip that is wielded with the panache of Indiana Jones. The other fifty percent of the film wants to be a genre movie, a horror-thriller. The result is an underwhelming experience, whose main problem is a lack of focused writing.

Let's put this differently. In genre films, the story is the star. The mood, the sustained atmosphere is the star. But here, the star is the star. Kichcha Sudeepa is the star. He is in fine form. He gets many more shades to perform than in his other films. I especially liked how vulnerable his character gets as the film goes along. This is certainly not your usual "mass" movie. But the excessive focus on him, which is inevitable, makes the movie lopsided. The Brahmaraksasha aspect is hardly addressed. A Muslim character is used for some random comedy. A romance angle makes little sense when you think back on it later, given the reveals that occur. A headmaster promises to become a major player in the proceedings but he doesn't. The interval twist is just a high that has no follow-up. A witch-like woman comes and goes without any logical reason – just to add a few scares. But then, there are hardly any scares. Because of the need to reach the star's family-oriented fan base, everything is toned down. 

And what's toned up is the swag quotient, which is at complete odds with the mood and tonality and atmosphere the main story needs. And what is this story? Our hero, a cop, investigates a number of murders, which seem to have a supernatural background. And when we learn what's behind all this, it is really underwhelming. The inciting incident itself is a powerful depiction of caste and class. But it all remains on paper. On screen, nothing touches us. Everything remains superficial. One minute we are seeing a "cute" song with little kids. And instantly we cut to a gruesome murder. There is no buildup, and the mood of the song undermines the mood of the discovery of the murder. Ajaneesh Loknath's tunes are lovely, especially a lullaby that has no percussion and sounds like early AR Rahman. But how can a film of this nature accommodate so many songs without losing its tightness?

Where Vikrant Rona really succeeds is in the making. The film looks fantastic. (The cinematographer is William David.) I have never seen such a clean, bright 3D conversion in an Indian film. Yes, there are a couple of things hurled at the audience, but mostly, the 3D is used to give the frames an extraordinary sense of depth. You may have heard of deep-focus photography, where the foreground, the middle-ground and the background are all equally sharp and in focus. That is the effect here. But I wish the writing had had some deep focus, too. This is the kind of movie where someone makes a big reveal and someone connected to this reveal just happens to be at the spot, listening to it all, seemingly appearing out of nowhere. Nirup Bhandari, Neetha Ashok and Madhusudhan Rao are all in here, but no one makes an impression because their parts exist solely on the surface. The visuals draw us in but the real star of any film, the writing, keeps us at a distance. We see a lot, but we feel very little.