Pushkar and Gayatri are back.
Five years after Vikram Vedha stormed screens and established them as filmmakers to watch out for across the country — Bollywood took note, which is why they are remaking their smash hit in Hindi with Hrithik Roshan and Saif Ali Khan — the husband-wife team make their web-series debut.
Titled Suzhal – The Vortex, the investigative drama follows a well-trodden template plot that has been the foundation of several successful shows globally; from Mare of Easttown to True Detective. Set in a small fictional town in south India, all hell breaks loose when a local girl goes missing, and cops struggle to figure out who is behind the kidnapping or murder as a seemingly-larger curse envelopes the drama.
With a fantastic ensemble cast comprising Kathir, Aishwarya Rajesh, Sriya Reddy along with Radhakrishnan Parthiban in key roles, the eight-episode series could well emerge to be Tamil cinema’s calling card in the genre.
Though Pushkar-Gayatri created the show, the duo — like in the case of several Hollywood projects — chose filmmakers Bramma (Kuttram Kadithal, Magalir Mattum) and Anucharan (Kirumi) to direct the episodes instead, in what makes for an intriguing collaboration.
All set to premiere June 17 on Amazon Prime, we talk to the creative team of Suzhal ahead of its release on what to expect from the drama. Excerpts from an interview:
Assembling a dream team
“The process of writing Suzhal began in 2018, and we started the first schedule in 2020… but then of course, came the lockdowns and delays. Honestly, we haven’t worried about our relevance too much apart from some fleeting moments now and then,” says Pushkar lightly.
“And yes, we are still lazy writers,” Gayatri grins, “However, now, we have already started thinking ahead to how the second season can take shape.”
Considering this is their first streaming venture, it is tempting to wonder if the duo’s first two films — Oram Po (2007) and Va: Quarter Cutting (2010) — would have done better had OTT platforms been prevalent then.
Pushkar says, “I think it was a little too much to expect audiences to come to theatres and watch such experimental films. I still remember Va: Quarter Cutting was a Deepavali release; people came to cinema halls with their families… and had to watch a film about two guys in search of alcohol! But yes, I do think both would have worked better with direct streaming releases.”
What was Bramma and Anucharan’s motive towards coming on-board and working with the creators?
Bramma says he had absolutely no hesitation, “I didn’t think of it as a bigger or smaller platform for me; I was clear that it’s an opportunity for me to learn a lot of things. It was the right association for me at this point in my career, while protecting my own individuality. The philosophy they (Pushkar-Gayatri) carry is close to my heart, and both their filmmaking and writing is in such an interesting space. It is both mainstream and nuanced at the same time.”
Anucharan adds, “I was a fan of their work even before my career began as a filmmaker, and since my experience was limited to feature projects before this, it was exciting to work on a web-series and learn about long-form storytelling.”
On coordination and collaboration
All the four assert that it was essential for them to be on the same page in terms of sensibilities and aesthetic, which is how such an alliance could take place.
Says Gayatri, “We went for them (Bramma and Anu) based on their earlier works. It was not just their narratives, but how they treat characters and their emotions, the world-building, and their individual colours is what we wanted to add to the show.”
Pushkar also says that they didn’t want the pitching of the series to be caught up in being too realistic or overtly commercial. “Both of their earlier films — Kirumi and Kuttram Kadithal — were dramas with larger-than-life emotions wherein the setting felt real. That’s exactly what we wanted with Suzhal; where the drama is heightened, but with a lightness of touch and subtlety.”
How did the coordination between the two different directors work for their respective episodes in order to maintain the same tonality?
“There was extensive pre-production and discussions where we worked on all the details — from the costumes to how the characters talk — and the writing dictated the terms,” Bramma explains.
Anucharan agrees, “That helped with the seamlessness of the tonality, as did having the same technicians for all the episodes. We had breaks at least, but the technicians and artistes had to work around the clock. Our shoots would often overlap, and it was due to a bit of luck that our psyches gelled so wonderfully.”
Pushkar recalls, “The schedules were brutal because of the extenuating circumstances with COVID. There were times when Anu would shoot till afternoon, then Bramma would pick up, Anu would follow… and so on. All in a single day!”
Rooting a storyline in its cultural context
With the plot being set in a fictional town, such a storyline needs to be rooted in its cultural context, and Pushkar says that a lot of work went into getting that aspect bang on.
“To bring context to the show, we did a lot of research. In fact, we traveled extensively and shot video footage to get it right. Documenting that in every episode, and bringing in an amalgamation of cultural elements and different customs into that fictional town where Suzhal is set.. that was the challenge. We also connect the main plot with the epic mythology that hangs over the tale, which is where we got our kick.”
“Bramma has extensive experience with street theatre and working with different NGOs, so he was invaluable in mounting and incorporating several sensitive topics into our narrative with his perspective,” Pushkar adds.
They might have another blockbuster action extravaganza on their hands with the Vikram Vedha remake, but as one of the country’s few husband-wife directorial duos (with a real-life fairytale romance to boot), is it too much to expect a straight love story from Pushkar-Gayatri sometime?
Bramma quickly interjects, “You know, we have this image of them as a romantic couple and totally envy them; running a family together, writing scripts and working on productions together… without fighting at all! We wonder how they manage it.”
“All the romantic lines in the script come from their own lives.. they have redefined the term romance,” Anucharan laughs.
Gayatri finally grins and answers, “I don’t know; whenever I think of a romance, I wonder what the conflict could be. If there is a fight between the couple, I go ‘Just grow up and sort it out’. Hence there’s no drama and the idea becomes boring eventually.”
“But there is a romance in Suzhal, which is a vital part of the story. There is also one another layered, budding romance in the narrative, that we hope to explore in the coming seasons,” Pushkar quips.
So does that mean this team is going to stick together when Suzhal returns for further seasons?
“Of course! We are very possessive about each other. It’s been a dream to work with these guys; a labour of love if you will, to the point where we all care about the project fiercely and independently. That’s how Pushkar and Gayatri make you feel,” Anucharan concludes
Suzhal: The Vortex premieres June 17 on Amazon Prime