Suzhal: Great performances in a visually compelling whodunit

Suzhal is no different from some of its illustrious predecessors in this genre, such as Broadchurch, Fargo, Mare of Easttown, and of course, our very own Drishyam.
Suzhal poster. (Photo | Twitter/ PrimeVideoIN)
Suzhal poster. (Photo | Twitter/ PrimeVideoIN)

Some of the best investigative series in the world has been set in a small town. There is something about a crime occurring in a place where everyone knows each other. Suzhal is no different from some of its illustrious predecessors in this genre, such as Broadchurch, Fargo, Mare of Easttown, and of course, our very own Drishyam. However, this doesn’t mean Suzhal is any less original, and yet, it is this familiarity that makes us warm up to the town of Sambalur and its inhabitants who all seem to harbour secrets.

Using the medium to their advantage, creators Pushkar and Gayatri take their time to develop each character, and expertly weave in red herrings. There are three principal plot points in Suzhal. One, a cement factory and the place of employment for the inhabitants of Sambalur getting burned down, with cops Regina (a terrific Sriya Reddy) and Chakaravarthy aka Sakkarai (a restrained Kathir acing it) on the investigation. Two, Nila, the younger daughter of the cement factory’s workers’ union leader Shanmugham (an effective Parthiban) going missing, and his elder daughter Nandhini (a brilliant Aishwarya Rajesh) returning home to support the family. Regina and Sakkarai take over this case as well. Three, the traditional Mayana Kollai festivities being underway, and the town’s police force being used to provide security for the event. It is impressive how the narrative choice of Mayana Kollai being interspersed with what’s happening in the investigation works so well, and it is a wonderful documentation of an event that is not often seen on our screens.

Nevertheless, with so much policing around, it is interesting how multiple crimes happen in a small town like Sambalur. The investigative drama, centred around Regina and Sakkarai, is the lifeline of this film, with their decisions pushing the plot forward. However, both the writers and the directors never lose sight of how Suzhal is also about the supporting characters. Be it Harish Uthaman’s Trilok Vadde, the volatile CEO of the cement factory, or the young actors playing Nila and Adhisayam, the performers at the Mayana Kollai, each of these characters have a solid character arc. Almost every supporting actor playing an important role gets at least one standout scene, and they deliver brilliant performances to keep us invested. Special shout-out to Sriya and Kathir for portraying complex characters who are at never-ending crossroads with their own instincts and beliefs.

Suzhal, which has a lot going for it for the longest time, hits a few missteps along the way. It’s the case of the ‘bloated middle episodes’, which serve to dump us with information and one too many red herrings. However, cinematography is a definite plus. For this series that undergoes multiple genre shifts, Mukesh’s camera work ensures that the look and feel of the first four and last four episodes remain distinct, despite being directed by two different filmmakers. Another winner is the music by Sam CS.

Although there are casual asides to the prevalence of patriarchy, the importance of feminism, and a discussion about spirituality, discrimination among gods, and more, the writing never aims to delve deep into any one particular thread and is content with telling a good story that encompasses all these threads. The makers' attempts to merge all these threads affect the pacing. When the focus gets forcibly shifted from the investigation to the interpersonal dynamics of the characters, Suzhal gets pulled down.

However, the makers do try their best to hit us with one narrative high after the other. While most work, there are some revelatory twists in the final act that you see coming from afar. For eyes trained by years of watching investigative procedurals, picking out certain not-so-well-hidden clues might not be a big deal; however, it is important to understand that the series is not just made for people who love the likes of the aforementioned shows. It is for people who are slowly warming up to the idea of watching ‘non-mainstream’ content, and Suzhal has all the markings of a first, visually spectacular step into that vortex.

Cast Aishwarya Rajesh, Kathir, Sriya, Parthiban
Director Anucharan and Bramma
Creator Pushkar-Gayatri
Rating: 3.5/5

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