November Story review: Tamannaah fails to hit the mark in Indhra Subramanian's clever web series
November Story is an excellent entry into the pure-play murder mystery genre, but fails to deliver a satisfying pay-off.
The bane of every intricately setup mystery is that the payoffs are never worthwhile. Indhra Subramanian's new web series November Story runs the same risk. Over four and a half hours, November Story unravels slowly, one tiny clue at a time, across multiple timelines, connecting seemingly unrelated characters with a complex web of incidents.
Anu is the daughter of crime novelist Ganesan, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. She's also a hacker, whose FIR-digitizing application for Tamil Nadu police is being hacked. She is also trying to sell a house, in which a woman is murdered (the same woman she met coincidentally on a train a few days ago). Anu's father is implicated in this murder. I sometimes wonder if there should be a limit on the suffering a woman should be shown to have.
Tamannaah, who plays Anu, tries exceptionally hard to play a character who needs endurance, cleverness and persistence. She bravely faces the camera with anger, sadness, rage — she cries straight to the camera multiple times. Unfortunately for her and us, she does not have the range.
For instance, in a scene where she explains why she thinks she can get away with murder, she says, "Malar, my dad is India's best crime novelist." There is no conviction in her face or her forced deep husky voice. As Anu, she neither looks nor feels the part. I kept thinking if this web series would have achieved a lot more if only someone like Aishwarya Rajesh played Anu. Tamannaah makes it harder to empathise with the plight of a character so embroiled in pain.
Accompanying her as Malar is Vivek Prasanna, who has his moments. As a vulnerable business owner, scared co-conspirator and a forgiving friend, he brings a sense of rootedness to an otherwise oddly staged series. Even when he's relegated to the background, he brings more emotion to the scene than Tamannaah manages to. However, his worst parts — and the worst parts of the series itself — are the ones where he's treated as comic relief; it's neither comical nor offers any relief. They disrupt the tone of the series, relaxing the grip of mystery the story has on us.
Despite these misgivings, November Story holds up because of the strength of its screenplay. It delicately plots a complex web of incidents and people. It slowly unravels clues, with multiple characters discovering half-truths and broken straws at the same time. The writing is so good that there is no lag in the 'middle' of the series, which is often the hardest part of any mystery. The show moves steadily, each episode getting its due.
And it explores interesting themes too: Guilt, the most prominent of them all. There is an underline of guilt being the driver of actions for most characters in the film. "You're doing this out of guilt," Ganesan accuses his daughter Anu about why she takes such personal care of him; it is almost as if it never occurred to him that the reason might be love. We realise by the end of the series that it's because Ganesan himself has spent his entire life in guilt, letting the emotion drive all his decisions. There are some sweet ironies too. The one I especially loved was Anu getting a death certificate for her father so she can earn the money to save his life. The idea has deep thematic underpinnings, while also working within the plot.
Even though it's not entirely a police procedural, there are some ingenious investigative moments too. I especially liked the scene where the inspector wraps up everyone in his station to 'discuss the case', hoping it'll help him crack it wide open. It works as a way to recap the story for the audience. It also works as a clever ploy to bust some of the guesswork you already have been doing — the low-hanging serial killer angle, for instance. If only writer-director Indhra Subramanian resisted the temptation to insert humour into everything. Without cause, this large gathering of cops breaks into a fight, almost silly to watch. To say nothing of the unnecessary toilet humour.
The cleverness of writing is counterbalanced by the sloppiness in direction. Staging in many of the police station sequences feel fake — those in the background are almost unnatural in their quest to offer natural surroundings. The several scenes where the camera chases the rear-ends of cops is unintentionally funny. There is even a top-angle-rotating-camera-thinking-character-gloomy-voiceover scene!
The star of the show, of course, is Pasupathy, who plays Yaesu, a retired coroner. He single-handedly upholds intrigue throughout the series. In a show where everyone seems black and white, he adds beautiful shades of grey. But even he can't save the somewhat contrived ending and an over-stretched climax.
November Story is an excellent entry into the pure-play murder mystery genre. It keeps momentum. In the end, though, it gets entangled in its own web of intrigue and fails to deliver a satisfying pay-off. It's partly the curse of the genre, but mostly Indhra Submranian's own doing.
Rating: 3/5 stars
November Story is currently streaming on Disney+Hotstar VIP.
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