The new Amazon Prime Video series Suzhal: The Vortex is currently the talk of the town. Within days of its release on the streaming platform, the crime thriller has received praise from critics and appreciation from fans. But its creators – husband-wife filmmaker duo Pushkar and Gayatri – say they were not too sure about the reception, initially. In a freewheeling chat with Hindustan Times, they talk about the show’s success, its innate Indianness, and how the show’s tone came to them during a random trip. Also read: Vikram Vedha director duo to helm an original series for Amazon
The show is being talked about everywhere, from social media to the industry itself. Everyone wants success, but did you anticipate this kind of a response?
Pushkar: We were not sure. This is our first foray into the web series space. So, we don’t have the experience and metric on how people would respond. In a feature film, everything finally depends on theatrical collections on that day. So, we were blessedly surprised by all those responses.
Gayatri: Every time we saw tweets, and not just from Tamil Nadu, but also from outside, that was very heartening. It’s a Tamil show, but with the dubbing and all it’s reaching across barriers.
Pushkar: More than what’s appearing on social media, a lot of people from the industry have called us. We didn’t expect people to watch eight episodes of a heavy subject overnight, and call us the next morning. We thought they’d start calling middle of this week. By Saturday afternoon, we started getting these calls.
The story itself is universal – a girl going missing in a small town – but the treatment is very Indian, as you bring the unique micro-festival of Mayana Kollai into it. Your stories – be it this or Vikram Vedha – have always had a connection to Indian folk. Why is that?
Pushkar: When we started writing this, it was investigative drama with the idea of how crime in a small town affects the social fabric over there, and the focus on the insider-outsider thing. How our judgement is clouded by what kind of people we are. Those were the themes we were going for. At that point of time, we came across Mayana Kollai micro-festival in a small town near Vellore. We asked the driver, who was a local, about it and he gave us a little background and both of us looked at each other and said, ‘This fits. This is exactly what the story is about’. So we were midway through the story, when that happened.
Gayatri: Lot of our mythology is based on the people who are there, especially the folk ones. They are all very close to our heart. These are the stories of people who lived a long time ago. We like this idea of myth mingling with reality. That space is something that is very interesting.
To me, Suzhal is a story about perceptions, or judgement, as Pushkar mentioned. What was the thought behind weaving that mindset into the story?
Gayatri: We always try to peg people into roles. It is easier for all of us to put people into slots. It’s easy to judge. That is part of human nature, and we take it so much for granted that we don’t even realise. We all tend to judge the book by the cover. That we wanted to explore, and long form lends itself to playing around with this.
Pushkar: The core imagery was from that one scene where Nandini (Aishwarya Rajesh) shows Sakkarai (Kathir) a boom box, and shows him how the shadow looks rectangular from one place and like a circle from another. It’s about how you look at things change, from where you stand. That was one of the first things that takes the story forward. That would be the central idea of each character.
Like I mentioned the story is universal. Off the top of my head, a similar plot has been used in Broadchurch or as far back as Twin Peaks. Were those stories influences in your writing in any way?
Pushkar: We see everything. We’ve seen so many shows that have the same idea of ‘girl gone missing’, set in a small town. There is Broadchurch, The Killing, Mare of Eastown. This is a genre in itself. There’s so much of it going around. So we wanted to take that genre as such and see how we can bring this idea of being judgmental about people, and people having multiple sides, and look at it with a very Indian way of dealing with emotions.
Gayatri: We wanted to make the storytelling as Indian as possible. If you see, the music is quite packed, and the visuals are there right on your face, fully exploding. And that is who we are. We wanted to embrace the Indianness.
Over the last few months, the film industry has seen this wave of south Indian films doing really well in the north, sometimes at the expense of Hindi films. Do you think the success of Suzhal can start something like that for south shows too?
Pushkar: We are finding a voice which is Indian. Everyone would be able to get it. We are one of the few countries that have resisted the onslaught of these big Hollywood films.
Gayatri: Only our film industry is still robust. Otherwise, there are no European masters or South American masters. Mostly, Hollywood has taken over.
Pushkar: So more than thinking about one state taking over, we should look at all the content coming out as Indian. It could be in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, or Bengali. All that adds to the variety of content we are capable of giving.