A goddess hunts down a monster in both reel and mythical sense in the freshly released Tamil web series Suzhal: The Vortex. It is how the myth, accompanied by the fervour of the goddess' followers and the resultant visuals weaved into its narrative that makes this OTT release stand out. The visuals are part intimidating and part hypnotic just like faith in this deity - if you believe in her powers you will be in awe, if you don't then you might be left feeling haunted.
Set in a small town called Samblur, Suzhal: The Vortex revolves around the disappearance of a 15-year-old girl Nila, who goes missing on the first night of Mayana Kollai- a nine-day-long festival observed to worship goddess Angala Parameshwari. On the same night, a local factory, also a source of employment to many of the townsfolk, burns to the ground. Both the investigations are being led by Inspector Regina Thomas (Sriya Reddy) and Sub Inspector Sakkarai (Kathir) two capable yet corrupt police officers. Things get murkier and convoluted with each episode as the officers find their personal lives tangled in the case and caught in between is Nandini (Aishwarya Rajesh) Nila's sister - who is determined to find out the fate of her younger sibling.
The series has been created by Pushkar and Gayathri, makers of the acclaimed and popular Tamil film Vikram Vedha, and the duo doesn't disappoint, at least when it comes to crafting the mystery around Nila's disappearance. With every episode, we feel that we might know where the mystery might be headed, only for another revelation to turn the narrative on its head.
Suzhal Review: Realistic characters
One of the best things about Suzhal: The Vortex is how it refrains from painting a black and white picture of its characters. Almost every character is flawed, which makes them relatable and repulsive at the same time. For instance, Inspector Thomas knows how to run her police station, however, she has given up the desire to fight against corruption and casually takes bribes. She also loves her son and hates Shanmugam, the union leader at the factory that is burned down (and Nila's father), in equal measures. Sakkarai, an affable policeman with great observational skills is betrothed, but finds himself drawn to Nandini. As his fiancé later points out, he suffers from a saviour complex and thus feels compelled to "rescue" troubled people like Nandini. Then there is Shanmugam- Nila and Nandini's father who is devoted to the factory workers but doesn't extend the same empathy and care towards his daughters and wife.
Even Nandini's character isn't reduced to just being a vengeful heroine. We know that Nandini has moved away from the town to escape her family and circumstances and while she feels responsible for her sister now, she leaves Nila behind in her quest for independence and fails to develop a bond with her that would have enabled her to confide her feelings and trauma - a misplaced guilt that even the antagonist tries to play on towards the end.
An atmospheric thriller like no other
When we are introduced to Samblur it is a town throbbing with anger and worship. The factory employees are in midst of a protest, helmed by Shanmugam, while the rest of the residents are in the final phase of preparations for Mayana Kollai. With this festival, the web series creates an atmosphere of mysticism and horror. Some of the visuals from the festival do not make for an easy watch - especially the one involving the eating of a live bird during the festivities. What does help though is the elaborate trivia that are added about these scenes with every episode that help you understand the festival and its importance? The worshippers carrying a skull as part of the flag-raising ceremony, those walking on fire and even a symbolic unearthing of the dead from the undergrounds, each of the rituals or acts performed are rooted in folklore and once you read about it, you get a better grasp on how the story of people of Samblur is mimicking the folklore around goddess Angala.
The brilliant end that never comes
" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Suzhal: The Vortex could have been a brilliant series had it managed to keep the narrative going on the path that it sets with its initial episodes. However, in the last instalment, the thriller comes undone on both the fronts - the mystery of Nila's disappearance and the burning down of the factory. While the mystery around the factory simply gets solved by one revelation, that the fire investigator luckily chances upon, the end to Nila's story seems pretty obvious and yet leaves many loopholes in how the narrative was presented to us. While throughout the series Sakkarai insists that there is a connection between both of the incidents, and we want to believe him, the climax fails to make that connection.
When it comes to performances, Rajesh is as usual impressive as Nandini, a prodigal daughter with troubles of her own to deal with, and so is Karthik, whose Sakkarai is likeable despite his obvious flaws. At least he has the conscience to admit that he is wrong when he is. The same can't be said about Reddy's Regina. Perhaps it was the Hindi dubbing, but Regina comes across as unnecessarily volatile in the first few episodes, which lessens the impact in parts where her behaviour seems justifiable. Tragedy, vengeance or just a regular day at work, Regina is always furious.
Overall, Suzhal: The Vortex works in parts. Like Prithviraj Sukumaran's Jana Gana Mana, it questions our perception of people and situations but fails to go to the depths that the Malayalam film does. If only more care was taken in crafting the last episode of the series, the experience would have been very different.
The views expressed are the author's own.