Yashoda [Hindi] review: The Samantha-starrer thriller feels like a subtle modern retelling of Krishna Janmashtami

Director duo of Hari and Harish’s feminist action thriller tale harps on the exploitation of the meek at the hands of the powerful. The grotesque nature of the crime also draws parallel with Kansa in the Krishna epic.

Rating: 2 / 5

What would cinema be without our mythologies? Maybe, there wouldn’t have been one. The ethos of any epic has stood the test of time, with filmmakers drawing inspiration from it to carve their own stories. This is a global phenomenon. The father-son, the writer-director duo of K.V. Vijayendra Prasad and S.S. Rajamouli have reaped great success with their brand of epic films, which have their roots in the two great epics – Mahabharata, Ramayan. Director duo of Hari and Harish have now joined this bandwagon with Yashoda [2022], their first Telugu directorial.

Before Yashoda, the Tamil filmmakers have shown a penchant for supernatural stories. Their Wikipedia page defines them as, “pioneers’ filmmakers of three consecutive first-of-its-kind movies in Tamil, namely Orr Eravuu (2010), India’s First Viewpoint film. Ambuli (2012), first Stereoscopic 3D Tamil film, and Aaaah (2014), first horror anthology Tamil film.”

The first two seem like technical feats, and it’s best for the technicians to debate on it.  Nor are we experts on Tamil cinema to discredit Aaaah as their first horror anthology. Bollywood has had its fair share of it – Darna Marna Hai [2003], Darna Zaroori Hai [2006] Ghost Stories [2020]. Yashoda is our introduction to their [Hari, Harish] world of cinema. The world is unanimous is accepting the duo as filmmakers who like horror.

They take the horror to a sickening level in Yashoda. This world centers around a secret illicit surrogate facility, somewhere in Andhra Pradesh. Yashoda [Samantha], a young struggling Zomato delivery executive agrees to become a surrogate mother to arrange funds for her sick sister Brinda’s medical treatment.  [Well, if it is Yashoda, then no surprise that her sister is called Brinda].

It’s a lot of money, and the woman is swayed by the luxury in the facility. However, she is curious as to why they never see another fellow surrogate mother post labour? The subsequent disclosure opens a can of worms, leaving both Yashoda and the audience with a lump in their throat.

Just scratch the surface and it stinks of elitism, color bias, and exposing a society’s obsession with beauty. Certain entities will baulk at the grotesque nature of the crime. The largely white clientele makes its safer for the desi kingpins, and it also makes the plot more saleable. If you break the surface further, then Yashoda partly feels like a modern retelling of Krishna Janmashtami. Named after the adoptive mother of Lord Krishna, Yashoda [2022] encompasses the grim milieu before the birth of the Lord. The contemporary setting also sees a new variant of Kansa – the evil king and uncle of Krishna.

A Yashoda is another smart contemporary story idea that draws its roots from mythology. How Bollywood female artistes would be crying as to why such subjects don’t come their way?

You are gripped by Yashoda’s early journey that builds great anticipation for the latter half. You expect certain shockers to come your way, and they do, but the wheels come off drastically leaving you bitterly disappointed as the fine plot is let down by the [second half] timid writing. Part of the problem is the stretched past revelations making the latter half look like a flashback. The film also seems lost in translation. That has been the bane of many a South Indian films before.

For a poor woman desperate for money, you are taken aback by Yashoda’s inquisitive, smart conduct in the facility. Of course, it’s all a sign of things to come. But you wouldn’t bet on Samantha over poker. The popular actor is still the glue that binds this film. Much like The Family Man 2 [2021], there is something about Samantha moving in small by-lanes to mask her true intentions. Ah, that face seems to be carrying that tension of the world on her shoulders. Samantha shows that same stealth while navigating her way to the dark truth of the secret facility. The action scenes could have done with more intensity, ferocity. You’ll perhaps find the worst henchmen in any film.  Samantha though delivers a strong performance. Though not tight like the lord, Yashoda shares a bittersweet relationship with Sudha [addressed as Sudha ma], the head nurse of her ward.

It is not all economic needs that has brought these ladies to this surrogate facility. We have one funky lass who is willing to be a surrogate mother just to buy the latest iPhone. Now that is amusing.

We’re introduced to the talents of Unni Mukundan and Varalaxmi Sarathkumar. The poor Hindi dubbed version is not a fair assessment of their performances. We liked the cold nature of Dr. Madhubala [Varalaxmi]. The actor would surely have plenty of brickbats coming her way, but that would also be a validation for her efforts.

The big disappointment in the film are the investigating cops. Sampat Raj’s retired IPS officer Vasudev and his team could have done with better writing, and a bit more intensity. Don’t lose the sight of the historic name Vasdueva, who acquires a guru status in the film. 

Given its plot, Hari and Harish take care to not reveal the sex of the child to the surrogate mothers. This is in stark contrast to Bollywood, which is more reactive than proactive. The background score, particularly the Yashoda falsetto might cater to domestic sensibilities, but we found it a little off-putting.

After a promising start, Hari and Harish don’t do justice to their story.  It has enough meat though to shake the society’s conscience, and trigger a debate over the merits/demerits of surrogacy, and the perception of beauty. Jai Ho Yashoda surrogate maiyya ki!

Yashoda [2022] is currently running in theatres.


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