Pushpavalli season 2 review: Sumukhi Suresh makes the journey of her messy character sumptuously unapologetic
Pushpavalli is not the 'perfect portrayal of an imperfect character.' The show takes as much joy in wallowing in the guilty pleasures of its portagonist.
Language: Hindi and English
In an exclusive interview, Sumukhi Suresh had a few confessions in store for the titular character of Pushpavalli in her Amazon Prime Video India show, produced by Only Much Louder (OML).
She explained her creative call to have her character, a woman who moves cities to pursue her love interest, bear the brunt of every stupid thing she does. "We're also reacting to the moral compass of the audience," she says. That was clearly the case in season 1, which elicited both "we told you so" and cries of help for the character, who has a knack for getting into trouble.
In season 2, the rabbit hole goes only deeper as Pushpavalli finds her engagement in troubled waters, is on the verge of being arrested, encounters a close shave with a self-inflicted warehouse blast, and loses her job at Pankaj's (Naveen Richard) library days after getting it back.
Clearly, the writer's room of the second instalment offers no respite for Pushpavalli, who is on a new mission to seek revenge from Nikhil, the man she is infatuated with but who rejects her in season 1. Once again, she plays one mind game after the other, lies incessantly, and manipulates everyone around without paying any heed to the consequences.
But yet again, the success of the show lies in the fact that you root for her. You feel sorry for her not because she rants endlessly about how she has daddy issues (her father is dead), mommy issues (her mother wants her married at any cost), love issues (she is engaged but still inclined towards a man clearly not in the mood for reciprocation), and big-girl issues (not till everyone around makes her feel worthless).
But you feel sorry for her because she shows you the symptoms of all these above mentioned issues through her desperate actions. You realise she is flawed yet applaud her agency. You recognise her actions are reprehensible yet secretly hope she gets away with them.
It is a fine line to walk on. And the writer's room, led by Sumukhi, does so with precision. But this precision never robs the show of its penchant for imperfection. Just like Pushpavalli, the show allows itself to dance to its beats, take unexpected turns to surprise us, make mistakes, pay a small price for it, and then bounce back with newfound vigour. It never comes across as a 'perfect' portrayal of an 'imperfect' character. Despite throwing lemons at Pushpavalli at regular intervals, the show also wallows with her in guilty pleasures, and tells her when she gets into trouble that they are in this together.
This pervasive feeling of owning one's choices, consequences, and thus, imperfections, is infectious. It manages to soothe the audience with the cozy comforts of "how bad can this get?". It is not merely an outlet for the audience to channel their suppressed frustration but also encourages them to take charge of their own lives and own the consequent repercussions.
But once again, Pushpavalli manages that without even an iota of preaching. It is fun and thrilling yet introspective in bits. What season 2 manages to do in terms of escalating the conversation the first instalment started is demonstrate the fairly clear difference between sympathy and empathy. "You're so perfect, you'll find someone" is only a reassurance when one knows the other is undergoing self-doubt. But the same sentence without any such knowledge, or intended as a genuine complement, is a wholehearted embrace of the other's 'imperfection'. Taking a cue from the "I-M-Possible" cliche, imperfection really is "I-(A)M-Perfection.'
Among the performances, Sumukhi undoubtedly owns the show. She knows Pushpavalli inside out. Sumukhi taps into a fine mix of imagination and empathy. The fact that she is the creator of the show clearly reflects in her central performance. She performs the mind games with just the right amount of deception needed to make the situation believable, but not without the fumbling, demonstrative of desperation and imperfection. The fact that she manages to wipe her tears, chase the storm again, and then get punished does not come across as merely a form of adventure but a helpless pursuit without which she would not be able to live with herself. That is why her Pushpavalli is a hustler, and never a junkie or an emotional wreck.
Naveen Richard carries forward his Pankaj with just the right amount of fire needed to deliver those sarcastic slingshots. The show still does not choose to explore his background or psychology that may explain why he is perennially angry and foul-mouthed. But one does see the soft side to his persona through the few scenes he has with his love interest Swati. It is an interesting development in his arc, which is woven intricately with the central spine of the show.
Manish Anand, who plays Nikhil, does in season 2 what he excels at — as Sumukhi put it — to look like a "flower." He is adequate just like majority of the supporting cast, who all get their moments to shine. But the highlight once again is definitely the character of Pushpavalli's landlady Vasu (Sharaddha). Her comic timing is impeccable, and she is easily the funniest character on the show, followed by Pushpavalli's mother (Latha Venkatraman) and T Boi (Ashok Pathak). Even Tara (Urooj Ashfaq) and Srishti (co-writer Sumaira Shaikh) get some of the best lines, and deliver in their delightfully sadistic fashion ("Pushpavalli ko cancer hai. Hum ussey marte hue dekhna chahte hain").
Debbie Rao returns to the director's chair, and ensures to give more play to the narrative and performances, than have the technique get the better of them. All the technical departments are subservient to the central plot of the show, except Vaishak Ravi's editing, which stealthily ventures into the minefield Sumukhi's head is.
As opposed to Prakash Kovelamudi's Judgementall Hai Kya, starring Kangana Ranaut in the lead role, from last year, the technical elements are not always representative of the protagonist's state of mind or personality. This was most probably a conscious creative call to not distract one from the narrative at play. But this writer wishes that in season 3 (there better be one, Amazon!), the world created is so sumptuously imperfect that it challenges the audience's unquenchable thirst for perfection.
Until then, repeat viewings of Pushpavalli's guilty pleasures are sufficient to tide one through.
Pushpavalli season 2 is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video India.
All images from Amazon Prime Video India.
Subscribe to Moneycontrol Pro at ₹499 for the first year. Use code PRO499. Limited period offer. *T&C apply
Marakkar also stars Manju Warrier, Suniel Shetty, Paresh Rawal, Arjun Sarja, and Keerthy Suresh among others
Modern Love is based on the New York Times column of the same name, which features standalone stories of everyday romance.
The Terminal List, based on Jack Carr's novel, also stars Riley Keough, Constance Wu and Taylor Kitsch.