Thiravam review: An earnest but mediocre and unsatisfying attempt at multi-genre fiction

Ranjani Krishnakumar

Jun 01, 2019 09:47:48 IST

Serial Chiller is Ranjani Krishnakumar’s monthly column about all things Tamil television. Read more from the series here.

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[SPOILERS AHEAD]

On the heels of Auto Shankar — a web series inspired by a notorious serial killer from the ‘80s and ‘90s — comes Thiravam (Liquid), taking a leaf from the life of Ramar Pillai, who was hailed as the harbinger of herbal petrol in the ‘90s, only to be convicted of fraud a couple of decades later. The makers of Thiravam insist that the series is not a biopic, while also generously helping themselves to Ramar Pillai’s initials and several incidents from his life.

Verisimilitude notwithstanding, Thiravam is an earnest attempt to tell what is undoubtedly a fascinating yarn.

Most of this earnestness comes in the form of Prasanna, who plays Ravi Prakasam or RP, the series’ protagonist. As a middle-aged single father, pot-bellied scientist, and a fugitive on the run, Prasanna holds the series together, without whose performance the meandering storyline would be glaringly evident. The character he plays is also exceptionally earnest. Unlike Ramar Pillai, the character of Ravi Prakasam is positioned as a scientist wronged, instead of a convicted fraud. He is never vengeful, hardly ever angry, and happy just to be left alone. His smarts are understated, so much so, that we miss them if we blink.

It is a shame then that other than Prasanna, there is little that keeps the show interesting. In the first few episodes, the series keeps jumping genres. It begins with a narrator telling us that the show is about something with the power to change the present-day world order. And the man who can make that happen is unmasked as Ravi Prakasam, our protagonist — kidnapped and tied up.

Thiravam review: An earnest but mediocre and unsatisfying attempt at multi-genre fiction

The makers of Thiravam insist that the series is not a biopic, while also generously helping themselves to Ramar Pillai’s initials and several incidents from his life. Zee5

This grave urgency drops when it becomes a courtroom drama, RP likened to Jesus, no less. Some running and chasing later, the show hits rock bottom when the tragicomic MLA Vetrivel, played by Azhagam Perumal enters. Enacting “veral sooppardhu” (sucking on one’s finger) and saying “kunjaruthuruven” (I will cut off your weenie) form his entire comical repertoire. If thoughtless insult-humor is your kinda thing, Vetrivel will give you the tickles. So will the high-school level insults against women and the fat-shaming that the show is filled with.

Sample this: “Vetrivel has no time beyond pumping with that nurse,” says one of the goons. And clarifies immediately that he meant pumping the BP machine. A few scenes later, Vetrivel’s political rival Baskar (played by John Vijay) asks his colleagues, “Unga area magalir ani ellam eppi irukkudhu? (How is the women’s council in your area?)”, promptly following it up with “don’t get caught with recordings that will jack you up!”

And then there the entire track of unfunny fat-jokes involving Pazhani, a goon. The fact that they try to portray his hitherto ridicule-worthy obsession with food as clever camouflage is the best joke of the series!

Jokes apart, jumping between family drama, political drama, crime thriller and tragicomedy, Thiravam ends up being none of those. Narrated with intercutting flashbacks doesn’t help the cause either, to say nothing of the innumerable unengaging red herrings, and the psycho-reloaded villain. The abusive language, used so liberally throughout the series, sounds neither natural nor conveys the emotion it ought to. RP turning into a clever manipulator in the end, and pulling a grand con is also an unpleasantly forced surprise.

The show repeatedly insists that only in India will a scientist be in trouble for making such claims as discovering herbal fuel, which is hardly true. But making a Narendra Modi lookalike utter these words must have some kind of a hidden message I couldn’t fathom.

Thiravam’s biggest let down is its staging and performances. Most supporting actors appear awkward and nervous. For instance, after one of RP’s allies is found murdered, the conversation between the police and the victim’s boyfriend hangs awkwardly in the air, the two actors unable to hold up the tension necessary for a scene like that. Better actors would have made this scene poignant; the ones in Thiravam make it distant and nearly ridiculous.

And it gets worse, with things beginning to appear like an amateur stage play. The cop calls a subordinate and instructs him to expedite the postmortem report, while the actor playing the boyfriend — still in frame — struggles to decide where to look. The subordinate, on the other hand, awkwardly taps his feet, trying not to look at the camera, and slowly exits right of frame. A second later, the camera still lingers, waiting for the boyfriend to exit left. It is this kind of staging, performance and lackluster editing that takes away from the show’s grand endeavour.

Yet, for a series that is about a scientist being chased by the international drug mafia, a local politician and corporate goondas, the only parts that truly work are the emotional ones involving Prasanna. RP’s rapport with his daughter is precious — Baby Monekha Siva does a good job of being the innocent girl who can’t see or understand the danger, but instinctively senses it. RP’s relationship with Panimalar is also complex and relatable. Scenes like the one where she confronts him about his feelings for her are what the series should have had more of, but alas!

In all, the series is too ambitious for its own good. An endeavour of this nature needed better actors, better locations, better action choreography and perhaps more investment. Without these, Thiravam is merely a wannabe in the age of web content, whose earnestness doesn’t compensate for its mediocrity.

Updated Date: Jun 02, 2019 10:48:11 IST