Karoline Kamakshi review: Meena — and Tamil audiences — deserve better than this hotchpotch of ineptitude
Karoline Kamakshi, Zee5’s new web series, botches one of the world’s oldest, and perhaps most endearing buddy cop tropes.
Serial Chiller is Ranjani Krishnakumar’s monthly column about all things Tamil television. Read more from the series here.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
A reckless French intelligence agent in Pondicherry. A lazy disrespected CBI agent in Chennai. A missing treasure named Virgin Mary. Gruesome smugglers. International incidents. A looming war. What could possibly go wrong in this time-tested premise? Everything apparently.
Karoline Kamakshi, Zee5’s new web series, botches one of the world’s oldest, and perhaps most endearing buddy cop tropes. Karoline is a French agent, who is brooding the separation from her lover, drowning in alcohol and baiting violence. For the first few episodes, all we see is Karoline throwing herself in pointlessly harmful situations, we haven’t the darnedest clue why. In fact, I found myself dreading that this is what passes for character building these days.
Kamakshi, on the other hand, is a Brahmin woman who has inherited her CBI job from her father. When we first meet her, she’s sleeping at her desk, waking up only to reprimand a colleague for disturbing her office siesta. Her husband patronises her, mother-in-law curses her and daughter looks down upon her. “What have you achieved for me to respect you?” everyone seems to ask.
On paper, Karoline — the rogue woman on a self-destruction mission, and Kamakshi — the conservative mother with a point to prove, should make for an interesting duo. On screen, it’s a hot mess of what we call something and all.
The writing, or what there is of it, is so lax, I wonder if they all just showed up to the sets and made it up as they went along. There is absolutely nothing clever about what moves the story forward — until episode 8, it mostly goes around in circles. It’s only after this point that Kamakshi develops the “Kamakshi instinct,” with which she finds her target. Suddenly before the last episode, there is an animated narration of the backstory of Virgin Mary.
There are Jack Bauer’s 24-like timers placed in regular intervals, but do absolutely nothing to induce a sense of urgency. At the beginning of the final episode, there are still eight more hours! They don’t notice the conspicuously missing character until in the epilogue “one month later”.
The staging is also bizarre: There is an abandoned aircraft on which the villain is mostly seen, there’s even a stunt scene on its wings. Speaking of stunts, Lakshmi Stores — a Sun TV mega-serial, for the uninitiated — has better unwitting stunts than the choreographed ones in Karoline Kamakshi. Giorgia Andriani, who plays Karoline, mostly looks like she’s flailing her arms and legs where the bad guys find themselves landing serendipitously.
The characters, perhaps intended to be colourful, are mind-numbingly boring. Furkin, the villain with a Gautham Menon-esque voice, is both torturously scary and comically incompetent at the same time. Kunju, a local cop, is a one trick pony. Victoria, another criminal in search of the Virgin Mary, does nothing but just smoke and stare into space thoughtlessly. And then there is Old Monk, who is meant to be the only lead to Furkin, but ends up being the butt of all inappropriate jokes. The writers seem to have forgotten that the Meena , who plays Kamakshi, of yore has grown into a middle-aged woman — why else will they still be writing ‘naïve cute’ for her?
The biggest pain with Karoline Kamakshi, though, is the humour. The sexual kind is what irritates the most. For instance, right at the beginning, Alex from Paris calls Chidambaram, the head of CBI in Chennai and asks, “Do you know Furkin?” Chidambaram responds: “What the hell is wrong with you? I may be a bachelor, but I’m not a virgin man. I know 14 different types of fucking. I’ve read the Kama Sutra fully. Look, not many Indians know about it, but I’m proud to say, I know a lot about it.” Long after the (attempted) joke is over, Chidambaram goes on and on and on.
And this idea of “bachelor not virgin” is a bit of a favourite among the writers, it appears again later in a drunken truth or dare game. The treasure they are all chasing is called “Virgin Mary” — so there are jokes around that, including one that rhymes it with Stella Mary and Queen Mary, go figure! Then, there is the cop named Kunju, who is milked for dick-humour until our ears bleed.
There is also lazy regurgitation kind. Like when Kamakshi says, “ukkaarra edathula sutten” (Roughly translating to ‘I shot where he sits’ but used to mean one’s buttocks). Chidambaram asks her, “Bench-laya? Chair-laya?” (On the bench or the chair).
There is also the political kind of humour. In a scene, a cop goes to a saamiyaar in a temple, to get some clairvoyant advice on his career prospects. He identifies the saamiyaar as an accused in a ten-year-old case. Potentially funny, right? See where the joke lands:
“Patthu varshathukku munnaala oru karpazhippu case la unna pudichappa, en kaiyya kadichuttu ammana kundiyoda odinavan thane nee?” (Ten years ago, when I caught you in a rape case, aren’t you the guy who bit my hand and ran away butt naked?” the cop asks. The ‘butt nakedness’ is the punchline, there’s both repetition and reiteration of it. Incompetence is one thing, but we should all most certainly draw the line at the wilful trivialisation of rape.
For a show whose underlying emotion is humour, Karoline Kamakshi is written with utter disregard for comedy at all. The show punches down so hard, there’s a crater in the ground on which it stands.
I tried very hard to hold on to the idea that there is place for a middle-aged woman to play a lead in anything other than a mega serial. I wanted to believe that a buddy-cop show about two women — albeit in the otherwise misogynistic Tamil film milieu — can be great. I sought solace in the one-off inspired moment, say when Karoline schools the men around her for not appreciating Kamakshi’s efforts.
But, even for the kindest viewer, Karoline Kamakshi is a terribly made hotchpotch of gross ineptitude.
Ranjani Krishnakumar is a writer, obsessor and a nascent Chennai-vasi. You can reach her at @_tharkuri
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