'Sengalam' review: An effective yet predictable tale of power play
In a dialogue-heavy series, actors Kalaiyarasan, Vani and Shali put up assertive performances that elevate this rather familiar tale.
Published: 25th March 2023 08:44 AM | Last Updated: 25th March 2023 08:44 AM | A+A A-
They say loyalty in politics only serves a personal purpose. Probably why any political power game finds itself at the centre of a vicious and unending loop. In some ways, political power is like energy... it can neither be created nor destroyed, and can only be transferred from one political leader to another. The plot of the new Zee5 web series, Sengalam (Red battlefield), is all about this never-ending battle of passing the baton.
The nine-episode series shows two parallel tracks colliding in the end by untying the knots and joining the dots. Each episode is divided into two segments. It travels from present-day Virudhanagar where Rayar (Kalaiyarasan) and his two brothers are in a hideout after committing murders, to the past where a family with three generations of political legacy faces off against a new political rival. Will the third-generation chairman, Rajamanikam (Pawan), married to Suriyakala (Vani Bhojan) finally be dethroned?
Rajamanikam’s sudden demise sets the ball rolling and brings to the fore Suriyakala’s machinations to rule the municipality. In this quest, she uses the wisdom of her friend Natchiyar (Shali Nivekas), who is the queenmaker, and her brother Rayar. The initial episodes are focused on establishing the characters, and the narrative is burdened by exposition. Although few scenes seem a bit staged, Sengalam gains momentum after the third episode when Suriyakala strategises her way to the top.
Those who have observed Tamil Nadu politics know of the camaraderie and fallout between former CM J Jayalalithaa and her close aide V Sasikala. In many ways, Sengalam seems to explore a similar equation with its principal characters albeit approaching it through the purview of local governance. Although the plotlines result in some predictable pay-offs, it is burdened even more by some underwhelming staging, especially with the lacklustre police procedurals, and the onscreen hype about the election results doesn’t really translate off-screen. The lack of inventiveness in the visual style, and a template narrative style don’t help the promising premise. But director SR Prabhakaran, who has already proved his penchant for rural dramas, strikes gold with the mounting of Sengalam too. The fragrances of the Chettinadu swirl around through the dialect, the vintage houses, the crooked lanes through the hamlets, and the vast and arid forest ranges.
In a dialogue-heavy series, actors Kalaiyarasan, Vani and Shali put up assertive performances that elevate this rather familiar tale. There is an interesting layer involving Rayar’s estranged wife Mathi, who might come across as just a comic relief, but has a poignant moment where she reflects on how not all women get to do what they love. Such brief moments of pathos keep the narrative ticking, and another such scene was the one involving Rayar and Suriya as they discuss the chasm between them despite the unprofessed love found in the crevices of their hearts. There is no doubt that politics cannot be without the influence of class and caste, and Sengalam subtly brings in these angles in the exploration of how innocent individuals are often caught in the crossfire of devious plots.
This desperate craving for the all-consuming power to break out of the shackles, and reach the upper echelons, is best explored through the convincing Naachi, who has no qualms admitting politics is like fishing in murky waters. In fact, it is her pertinent questions about politics that form the base of Sengalam.
Even if the hype is not as big as the Baahubali cliffhanger, Sengalam does have a cogent one in the form of ‘Who killed Rajamanikam?’ There is a hint of a sequel, which promises to answer questions like the strategy of the new chairperson and the plight of Rayar and his brothers. With the players and the plot in place, all that is required of the sequel is to have more focus and finesse. Will that happen? That is one more question that the sequel will hopefully answer.