'Suzhal—The Vortex': Whirlwind thriller that succeeds by deception
Suzhal is an intricately mapped out why-how-whodunnit with the girl’s disappearance in focus and investigation into factory fire by insurance officer Kothandaraman running concurrently in background
Amazon Prime Video’s original Tamil web series, Suzhal—The Vortex, by filmmaking duo Gayatri and Pushkar, begins with a protest by factory workers in the small town of Sambaloor. The challenge thrown at the corporate heads soon snowballs into dissent against atrocities heaped by the police force in trying to quell the workers’ movement. Two seemingly unrelated events follow—the factory catches fire and the workers’ leader Shanmugam’s (R. Parthiban) younger daughter Nila (Gopika Ramesh) runs away from home. The eight episodes make for a nail-biting interrogation into why the two incidents occurred, who perpetrated them and how.
Suzhal is an intricately mapped out why-how-whodunnit with the girl’s disappearance in focus and the investigation into the factory fire by insurance officer Kothandaraman (Santhana Bharati) running concurrently in the background. Is there a connect between the two? Will the two threads intersect at some point or keep running parallel? These questions are among the many other elements that keep one guessing through the series and bring out the latent detective in the viewer. As the seeming elopement of Nila soon reveals itself as a case of abduction, it makes one participate in solving the crime along with the cops at the helm of it, Regina (Shreya Reddy), Sakkarai (Kathir) and Nila’s elder sister Nandini (Aishwarya Rajesh).
Suzhal scores high with its writing. Like a solid, old-school thriller it keeps the plot above all, with the characters also serving the spine of suspense while being independent entities unto themselves. In fact, the script is cleverer than Kathir and other characters within the film and the viewers who are looking into their world from outside. Even as it makes everyone exercise their grey cells, it is always one step ahead in that it gives all of us only a limited perspective on things and gradually lifts the veil, clue by clue. Like the quintessential peeling of the onion. There is a twist at every step, a cliffhanger at the end of each episode to keep one guessing and riveted and leading steadily on to the truth. There are also as many red herrings that divert the collective attention away from reality. Suzhal succeeds by deception.
The additional weighty layer here is of the mythology of Mayana Kollai festival of goddess Angalamman. The eight episodes are spread over the nine-day festival in the small town complete with the deities, processions, dances, rituals, colours, fairs, songs, and sacrifices. The celebration of the “pillaging of the graveyard” doesn’t just help in compellingly evoking the social and cultural fabric of the place but also provides a primordial counterpoint to a contemporary crime that goes all the way into the digital space and appears to have roots in the social media. It segues in with the ideas of gender, sexuality, how we gaze at and profile people and judge them. Most of all, the playground of faith along with that of the family and the factory eventually leads on to the crucial issue of oppression, the shameful cruelty and appalling ubiquity and multifariousness of it.
However, not all is perfect. After a gripping three episodes, things do begin to go downhill in the fourth with a protracted focus on a cloying romance and family feud. Both irritate and detract. Thankfully, soon enough some more skeletons are found in the family cupboard, a new revelation comes to light, newer theories about the crime and a fresh set of suspects begin circulating and the guessing game begins anew.
Many plot points in Suzhal can be questioned in retrospect when put under the microscope. I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the final reveal, had a more shocking name in my head as the mastermind of the crime. But these amount to minor quibbles for the otherwise engrossing police procedural that Gayatri and Pushkar take the viewer on. Suzhal is a spellbinding ride, worth hopping on. One in which the fun is in the journey than the destination.