The Telugu film Panchakshari harks back to the era of social fantasies and 'devotional' films in terms of content. Watching it in today's context in an urban milieu may seem outdated as it's a socio-religious story which may find favour in the rural areas on account of the incorporation of the folk idiom -- the Bonalu festival which is popular in Telangana region.
Integrating the concept of the 'rangam' (the girl in a trance who predicts the future -- the oracle in a limited sense) the director Samudra tells the story by weaving in the concepts of Atma, Jeevatma and Paramatma -- generally lofty philosophic terms. However the director has made it too simplistic, may be to reach out to the common man.
The story is set partly in urban and rural backdrops. One character is Panchakshari who is born at the Devi temple on a stormy night to Sankarnarayana (Chandramohan) and his wife. She's considered to be blessed by the goddess and the goodwill charm of the village Jangaon. She's also the goddess incarnate on the last day of the Bonalu festival.
The other character, Honey is a fashion designer who's living in the city with her family. Both the characters Panchakshari and Honey are played by Anushka. The film essentially shows how these two characters signify the Atma, Jeevatma and Paramatma.
The story is not clear till almost the end of the the first half of the film. The narrative goes back and forth and the link is not established. It's only after the interval does it become clear.
It's supposed to be a socio-devotional to some extent and we find some inane humour added to it (perhaps to break the so-called seriousness) in the form of Brahmanandam and his parody of Magadheera. This is not just distracting but also infuriating as it just seems totally irrelevant to the story. The graphics are decent but can't
Atma, Jeevatma and Paramatma are highly philosophic terms. But in the film they are brought down to the base level using the Bonalu festival and the rangam as a metaphor. The intention of the director Samudra and producer Chandra may have been good in trying to get this across to the people but the way they do is rather archaic.
They get in a villain (with his henchmen) in the form of Pradeep Rawat too. And there's a Kapalika from Kashmir also! Above all this, there are families and the village folk. Hence, it feels more kitsch to the urban crowd. Perhaps it may go well with the rural crowd who can relate to the Bonalu festival and the concept of Rangam.
Anushka is the backbone and saving grace of the film. She puts in a good performance flitting from one character to the other. Anushka displays a distinct look and body language for Honey and Panchakshari. She even does a mass dance.
Performance wise nobody would doubt her ability but in choice of film, Panchakshari seems disappointing while compared with Vedam. Anushka's been lucky to get a heroine-centric film but the script lets her down to a large extent.
Samrat doesn't seem to be an apt choice and has nothing much to do in the role he portrays. Telangana Shakuntala is too loud and disturbing. The other artistes Chandramohan, Nazar, Brahmanandam, Pradeep Rawat, Ravi etc sleepwalk through their roles.
Technically, the film can do with improvement -- be it the music, cinematography and the editing to some extent.
On the whole, Panchakshari may give Anushka a boost on account of her acting but as a film, it falls below expectations with a run-of-the-mill, weak and out-of-date script.