Screenwriter-filmmaker duo Pushkar–Gayathri has carved a formidable reputation with the success of Vikram Vedha. The duo is also in the process of remaking the film in Hindi with Hrithik Roshan and Saif Ali Khan in the lead roles. Their foray into web series with Suzhal: The Vortex sort of carries the burden of living up to their reputation. Alas then, the series falls short in that respect.
Pushkar–Gayathri have written the eight-part series, and filmmakers Bramma G and Anucharan Murugaiyan have shared the responsibility of the direction. The shortcomings of this series are also shared by all of them.
Suzhal may seem like a huge jump by the standards of Tamil soaps, but by global standards, the show creators have barely scratched the surface, with many generic moments in the show.
Suzhal is set in the backdrop of a small town. The story begins on an eventful night. The lone factory in the town, which has become the town’s identity, is devastated by a fire, a teen girl goes missing and the Mayanakollai festival begins. By the end of the series, we are no further along than we were at the opening. Yes, some of our questions are answered, but we don’t immerse ourselves in a story to know who did it. Where’s the fun in that?
We know there is no such thing as real magic. We know when a man pulls a rabbit out of a hat, it is not due to magical powers. We are aware that it’s part of the script — it’s a play, a trick. But, every time the magician pulls out a rabbit, we cheer and clap, knowing fully well that we have been lied to. And what’s a movie or series? It’s nothing but 24 lies per second. So where is the rabbit, the fireworks or other illusionary tricks that immerse us into a vortex of narration? And let’s not forget this is also an exploratory work. At the end of the each illusion, we should find something new about human psyche and maybe even help us learn a new information about ourselves.
In Suzhal, we get storytellers in a hurry to reach the finish line. That’s it. The narrative moves like it has been put in a straightjacket. We can see this series is done by a group of storytellers, who were afraid of making a mistake and perhaps under pressure to string together a passable series with an episode running for an average 40-minute. That’s all there to this series. It is neither inventive nor immersive. It’s just a straight shot to the end line.
Applying the same methods to writing for a series as one would write for a movie is a grave mistake. The web series is an entirely different beast and it requires a different kind of approach to tackle it on all fronts.
For example, we learn nothing about the fictional industrial town of Suzhal. We don’t get a sense of its geography or the fully come to appreciate its sinister history or its troubled inhabitants. Same with the Mayanakollai festival. The festivities and celebrations of the local deity mirror the crimes of a missing girl and everything happening around it. Except for the duplication of the narration, the festival of the local legend serves no bigger purpose. It’s simply made a part of the narration as it provides a vivid visual background to an otherwise colourless narration. I’m afraid that the showrunners have not shown the festival, which seems to date back to pre-Vedic times, in a correct social, cultural and traditional context. Especially, when Mayanakollai is painted as a metaphor for the series. They just leave the practices of the festival hanging in the air leaving it for the audience’s prejudice and judgement to make sense of them.
There is also not a single performance that stands out, which is quite scandalous given it has such proven talents on the cast roster. The major disappointment comes from R. Parthiban. He isn’t committed to his character and makes little effort to make us feel the pain of a father whose daughter has gone missing. The feeling of disappointment intensifies further along with the story when the father finds out more horrible things that have happened to his teenage daughter. His acting lacks soul and conviction. The writing at times is so weak, that it undermines a scene’s effectiveness despite the best efforts from actors like Aishwarya Rajesh and Sriya Reddy.
Kathir plays a young cop who behaves less like a cop and more like a gossip monger. His character is passed off as saviour but he’s too dumb for it. Except for taking advantage of the power that comes from his stature as a cop, he has no redeeming quality to be a hero. Some homework on how a cop might behave during an investigation would have saved a lot of embarrassment for Kathir. He’s not ready to even lose his beard for the cop role.
Suzhal is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.