Auto Shankar review: Zee5 series is a raw and gritty portrayal of Chennai’s menacing criminal
Shankar started his career as an auto driver and later become an unshakeable kingpin running illicit liquor and brothel businesses
Auto Shankar, the new web series on Zee5 can’t be called an authentic representation of the life of the notorious serial killer ‘Shankar’, who shook Madras city (now Chennai) in the ‘80s. Director Ranga and team have used facts from various sources and added their own dose of fiction. Despite its factual flaws though, Auto Shankar is definitely a game changer in the Tamil web series space for its raw and gritty portrayal of the underworld led by Shankar — who started his career as an auto driver and later become an unshakeable kingpin running illicit liquor and brothel businesses before being nabbed by the cops for multiple murders.
‘Appani’ Sarath of Angamaly Diaries fame plays Shankar in the web series, which begins with his last day in jail and how he recollects his past while on the verge of his death. ‘Auto’ Shankar belongs to Sarath who has completely transformed as the notorious gangster and brought so much life to the character. One good thing about the series is that there is no justification behind the dark side of Shankar. Yes, there is a backstory that both of his parents had extra-marital affairs which affected him as a child but that doesn’t justify his gruesome murders.
The title credits of ‘Auto Shankar’ begins with newspaper clippings and the music (impressive job by Aroll Corelli ) reminds us of Narcos. Each episode highlights the popular political headlines to depict the time period. What I really like about Auto Shankar is the series stays rooted and director Ranga didn’t borrow anything from the hit original series to make his product more stylish and flashy.
As Shankar only dealt with bootlegging and the flesh trade, his lifestyle is not as luxurious as other gangsters we have seen so far in western series. However, the way Shankar climbs up the success ladder and enjoys the power with the help of influential politicians is a revelation to those who only know him as a serial killer. While the time restriction is a big hurdle for films, biopics can be best told only through web series and Auto Shankar is yet another classic example.
The series also subtly questions what happened to the corrupt cops and politicians who operated behind Shankar. The makers seem to have written the series based on the detailed report published by popular Tamil magazine Nakheeran. The writing team has tried to fictionalise the report by adding and removing a few fictional and real-life characters. On the downside, each dialogue begins with a cuss word; director Ranga and writer Maniji have gone overboard in that regard because web series doesn't have any censor regulations.
On speaking to Sarath about his characer in Auto Shankar, he said, “After Angamaly Diaries, I was only waiting for the right characters and at that time, cinematographer Manoj Paramahamsa, who is the producer of this series, approached me to play Auto Shankar. What really hooked me to play Shankar is that no one is born a criminal, everyone has their own story. Though Shankar committed unpardonable crimes, just like any of us, he too can feel the pain and has his own struggles as well. The script of Auto Shankar was detailed and I immediately felt that it’s a lifetime role,” says Sarath.
Sarath adds that even after the shoot, he found it very difficult to come out of Shankar's frame of mind. “Anger management has become a big issue for me. As Shankar easily lose his temper, I too became like him in real life. While hanging out with my buddies in Kerala, the Tamil cuss words unintentionally come out my mouth,” he laughs.
The actor’s performance and mannerisms in Auto Shankar remind us of Dhanush. “Well, Dhanush sir is a big inspiration. When I tried to get into the film industry, people discouraged me saying I wasn’t good looking and don’t have a fit physique. At that time, watching interviews of Dhanush sir gave me a lot of hope but that doesn’t mean I try to imitate him.”
He concludes, “I believe that Auto Shankar will open many doors for me in Tamil cinema.”