Suzhal The Vortex review: This crime thriller is its very own, very gripping creature

Several coiled strands present themselves in ‘Suzhal: The Vortex’, the eight-part Tamil original web series created and written by Pushkar and Gayathri, and co-directed by Bramma and Anucharan. A teenage girl goes missing. An old factory goes up in flames. A week-long religious festival, high on fervour, is underway. Old enmities resurface, laying bare a collective unease: nothing is as it seems in this small town, somewhere in South India.

The thick ripples that emanate from undetected crimes and putative punishments in atmospheric small towns is an old trope. The last time it all came together for me so well was in the Kate Winslet starrer ‘Mare Of Easttown’, which ‘Suzhal’ reminds me of in a broad sense. Many familiar elements of domesticated crime thrillers set in deep rural-urban outposts are here — complicated relationships between young people kept hidden from prying eyes, police personnel who think they know their townspeople from the inside, unhappy residents who may or may not have something to do with the disappearances, a bunch of red herrings, and an air made rancid by predators. But ‘Suzhal’s vivid sense of place and people, and the infusion of local myth-making, makes it its own very specific, very gripping creature.

Troubled factory union leader Shanmugan (Parthiban Radhakrishanan), already upset at the heavy damage caused by the fire, returns home to find his 15-year-old daughter Nila (Gopika Ramesh) missing. As senior cop Regina (Shreya Reddy) and able colleague Sakkarai (Kathir) start digging deeper, they keep peeling back layers, which lead them from one suspect to another. Is it Trilok Vadde (Harish Uthaman), the owner of the factory, who seems a bit too keen to prove that it was arson, and who has a connection with the missing girl? Is it someone involved with the colorful, crowded procession, with the local deity at its centre, demanding fresh blood as sacrifice? And whose bodies are those that are dredge up from the lake that abuts the town’s cliffs?

The characters have a nice degree of depth. No one is black or white; they are your garden variety flawed humans. Regina’s hands are not quite clean, even if her reasons to dirty them are understandable. Sakkarai professes love for one woman, but has another on his mind, and heart. The women of ‘Suzhal’, in fact, are its bedrock: when the missing girl’s mother (Indumathy Manikandan) returns from a self-imposed exile, and her older sister Nandini (Aishwarya Rajesh) shows up after a gap of several years, you are left asking, why did they leave in the first place?

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At times, some twists and turns appear tad forced. Some things feel shoehorned into the plot, and a couple of plot points are left dangling. And at other times, you get impatient because it gets too stretched. But these do not deflect from the big picture: ‘Suzhal’ stays focused on advancing the mystery, with its murders most foul, which come wrapped in lies and betrayal and the thickened scars of childhood trauma. You willingly let yourself be drawn deeper and deeper because you can’t wait to know what lies on the other side, and the big reveal manages to be a surprise.

Suzhal The Vortex cast: Shreya Reddy, Kathir, Aishwarya Rajesh, Harish Uthaman, Parthiban Radhakrishanan, Gopika Ramesh
Suzhal The Vortex directors: Bramma and Anucharan

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