The storytelling in Suzhal (Amazon Prime)
In the boringly predictable flow of Tamil cinema and OTT content, Suzhal is an unexpected vortex. I'm sure we would all be happy to get sucked into it over and over again. But why is it such a good series? What does it do beyond delivering a few good thrills? Something very important that we rarely see in our cinema.
But before we dive into it, let's ask ourselves the purpose of a film, series, or for that matter, any piece of storytelling.
Of course, it is to narrate a story and entertain us. It is a pity that many of our films fail to satisfy this fundamental requirement. But that's a discussion for another day.
However, some exceptional stories aim higher. They go beyond entertainment, and hold a mirror to the audience and show us who we are, and help us understand the different shades of the human nature.
Suzhal ticks off both these checkboxes with great finesse. Let's examine how.
Part 1: The thrills
Being a thriller, Suzhal's foremost objective is to keep the audience hooked and second guessing. How is this accomplished?
The writers go extremely local and choose a very unique festival as the cultural backdrop for the story. In the words of Pushkar and Gayathri, local is the new global. This choice eliminates cliches and gives us a very fresh context. Moreover, the macabre events of the festival add to the horror of the plot.
But Mayana Kollai is not just a prop. The writers have stitched the plot into the fabric of this festival's schedule. So the turning points we experience are similar to and occur at the same time as the events of the 8-day festival.
For example, in episode 4 "The Immersion", the people immerse the goddess into the lake, and as it sinks down, we discover in great shock the drowned bodies of Athisayam and Nila.
In episode 5 "The Looting", in which the fanatics loot the graveyard and open the graves, the police pull out the bodies of Athisayam and Nila and the doctors perform autopsy to open a ghastly secret that Nila is pregnant.
This is how, over the course of the series, we instinctively develop a premonition that something unpleasant is about to happen by watching how the festival unfolds.
Not only the turning points, even the characters of the story resemble the characters of the myth - Nandhini is written as the goddess who kills the demon and Chakkara is Pavadarayan, the goddess's soldier we see in the koothu, who hunts with her and helps her find the demon.
Part 2: The humanity
Suzhal is unlike most crime thrillers that single-mindedly focus on their plot and how to deliver the next thrill. Suzhal takes on the more nobler role of illuminating the human nature to make us all understand ourselves and feel a bit more mature.
In achieving this, it clinches itself a place among those exceptional stories like Bong Joon-ho's Memories of Murder and Johnathan Nolan's Person of Interest.
But what does Suzhal reveal to us about humanity?
Throughout the story, we are put in the pillion seat behind Chakara. We travel with him and share his beliefs, doubts and discoveries. And along with him, we form our suspicions.
As we feel sure about each suspect, Pushkar and Gayathri crush our arrogance and reveal the suspect's gentle and innocent side, making us root for that character in an absolute u-turn.
In a visually demonstrative scene, Nandhini throws light upon - both literally and symbolically - an object and points to Chakkara the different shapes of its shadow and how every human has multiple shades, only one of which we notice.
Near the end of the series, Chakkara wonders aloud the import of this, and how his assumptions and biases about people have misled him so far. And we realize our mistake of judging people based on their looks and our prejudices.
Thank you, Pushkar and Gayathri, for giving us this extraordinarily thrilling and insightfully written series! We are very happy to see an indigenously Tamil story being broadcasted across geographies and languages. Now it's time for people of other nationalities to binge watch our regional shows.
Media credits: Amazon Prime