Director duo Pushkar-Gayathri’s latest web series Suzhal is an investigative thriller


Director duo Pushkar-Gayathri’s latest web series Suzhal is an investigative thriller. The usually sleepy Sambaloor is gearing up to stage its biggest event of the year -- the nine-day Mayana Kollai festival. On the first night of the festival, two major things happen. The local cement factory burns down in a fire accident, and the fifteen-year-old Nila goes missing. The series follows Inspector Regina (Shriya) and Chakrvarthy (Kathir) as they follow the trail to solve the case.


Crime investigative thrillers are not exactly alien territory -- especially ones that are set in sleepy, small towns. The most recent example would be Kate Winslet’s Mare of Easttown. And it’s a hard space to keep the audience hooked and in suspense. Crime thrillers come with a caveat -- we know the actual criminal only will be revealed at the end. It’s like watching Scooby-Doo; you just know that the ‘suspects’ in the middle of the episode will be bogus. But the challenge is to overcome this by making the ride engaging and entertaining.


Mare of Easttown does this by making the series more of a character study of its jaded, pessimist protagonist Mare. Suzhal does it by creating a world that is familiar but distinctive atypical. In broad strokes, the story and the characters feel familiar. But Suzhal subverts the stereotypes by simply changing the genders and identities involved. For example, the brash, corrupt, intimidating and domineering police officer is a woman. The parent who deserts the children to join an ashram is the mother. By simply making its women flawed, Suzhal creates a universe that feels fresh.


It’s not just the characters. Suzhal also plays with the cinematic stereotypes that come with perceptions. Let's take Regina, for example. There's a scene where she comes home drunk. There's a playful backforth with her son Adhisayam, who teases her 'intolerance' for foreign liquor. It's a stereotype for Tamil cinema to present Regina as a bad mother who spoils her brat son. But is she?


Nothing is as it seems -- this forms the core theme of Suzhal. The innocent aren't truly innocent, and the guilty aren't who you think. The series takes a fair amount of effort to ensure its red-herrings don't seem like it. There are loose ends from the deceptive twists but the writing is pretty cohesive for the large part. Most of the red herrings are predictable. But even if you know them, they still work -- not in terms of surprise, but as intriguing details that add more flavour to the tale. But it's irksome that even a series like this ends on an info/statistic card. (A small trigger warning for sexual violence)


After Pariyerum Perumal, Kathir returns with a pitch-perfect performance. And Aishwarya Rajesh continues her streak of winning performances. I also particularly liked Shriya who played Regina. On paper, Regina is not very different from Shriya's character in Thimiru. But both performances seem like chalk and cheese. She's an actor we should see more often, and in more diverse roles too.


At one moment, Chakravarthy has an introspective moment where he questions his judgement. He wonders how he assumed people with certain socio-physical markers as 'villains'. 'Our training only tells us to continue such profiling,' he adds. In another insightful moment, a transwoman observes how they don't get readymade clothes -- no one makes clothes for their needs. Even the mythological angle, the show's weakest side, has sociological relevance. Suzhal is an addition to content that shows Nattar Deivangal. A character notes how devotion is intrinsically linked with brahminical values of purity and vegetarianism. Despite its familiarity, throwaway moments and moments like these that Suzhal memorable.


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