Despite being the first of its kind in Marathi cinema, Aditya Sarpotdar’s Zombivli, streaming on ZEE5, brings nothing particularly fresh or original to the world of zombie comedies, or “zom-coms”. Nor does it have much new to say in terms of its message. But it would be unfair to lay any of the blame at the feet of the filmmakers.
Rather, the genre, pioneered to an extent by George Romero’s work in the 1970s-80s and perfected by Edgar Wright with Shaun of the Dead (2004) later spawned amusing but unspectacular content in the Zombieland series and Go Goa Gone (2013). However, it has long since been overdone in recent years.
It is now almost impossible, as a result, to put out a “zom-com” product that doesn’t feel like a retread of the same plot points, narrative structures, thematic beats or material for humour. So, unless a career-defining brainwave arrives, the goal for filmmakers to work within the confines of this genre is to just be solid.
Fortunately for Sarpotdar and writer Mahesh Iyer, Zombivli does just that. Struggling to avoid cliched character arcs and a predictable storyline within the zom-com confines, it has more than enough deliberately paced tactical action sequences that feel organic and realistic to make up for its shortcomings.
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A surprise that carries Zombivli
Set in the Mumbai suburb that gives the film its name, Zombivli gets caught up in most of these hackneyed elements in its first hour as it showcases the same progressions from the outbreak of the disease to the zombie violence that we’ve seen a million times.
It also introduces us to the principal characters from differing backgrounds who would be caught up together in a survivalist mission and gets into the usual spiel of determining the source of the outbreak before everything comes to a head in the final act.
Fortunately, there is one significant character arc that is not only zany but also serves as the majority of the comic relief. Played perfectly for the situation by Lalit Prabhakar, a poor but powerful Janata Nagar resident, activist and wannabe MLA, Vishwas, has a rogue right arm with a mind and superpower of its own that he names Jaggu.
Vishwas and rogue Jaggu are not only established as the central figure for most human vs zombie encounters and slapstick violence but are also the vessels for the anti-classist and environmentalist themes Sarpotdar and Iyer use as the underlying backdrop to the zombie disaster.
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Kudos to those behind the scenes
The Zombivli‘s more emotional moments, primarily between couple Sudhir and Seema Deshmukh (Amey Wagh and Vaidehi Parashurami) risk veering into melodramatic territory without giving the viewer compelling enough material to be invested in their fates.
However, they are secondary to the numerous elaborate zombie encounters in the third act in which the characters must finally learn how to outsmart the zombies and adapt to the conditions using any form of equipment around them as weapons and barriers.
This may sound like another series of tired, hacky scenes on paper but the set pieces and editing shine here, doing just enough to prevent the violence from becoming repetitive and keep you guessing about the human survivors’ next move.
But perhaps most importantly, the script, for all its flaws, is tightly put together instead of being long and drawn out or containing the kind of plot armour that contrived writing that plagued zombie content like The Walking Dead series. There are no inexplicable escapes via trash cans or otherwise intelligent seasoned characters making unbelievably brainless errors in judgement.
As the first Marathi zom-com, Zombivli is a landmark achievement in itself and makes decent use of its setting, serving as an introduction into the genre for an industry that never really delved into gore or humour of this form in the same film. But Sarpotdar and Iyer play it too straight and safe. Future Marathi filmmakers who want to explore zom-coms can take note of the technical proficiency on show here, but to go further than Zombivli. They should also look at recent examples overseas like Michel Hazanavicius, whose Final Cut opened at Cannes on Tuesday and is a remake of a Japanese film that played around more creatively and unconventionally with the zom-com tropes.
Unlike the best zom-coms, Zombivli lacks enough superlatively funny moments to demand re-watchability or to go viral over time the way parts of Shaun of the Dead or Go Goa Gone did, but it is competently made to be watched at least once.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)