Creators of Suzhal’s Web Series Pushkar-Gayatri Talk About Their Work in Bollywood and Their Vikram Vedha Remake

Warning: potential spoilers about Suzhal – The Vortex.

Pushkar-Gayatri are familiar names to followers of Tamil cinema. When Vikram Veda was released on September 30, they are also expected to become well known to Hindi-speaking viewers.

Their remake of their Tamil film of the same name stars Hrithik Roshan as a gangster and Saif Ali Khan as a policeman who chases him. Prior to the theatrical release, Pushkar-Gayatri served up a sort of tasting menu in the form of the web series Suzhal – The Vortex.

The Amazon Prime Video series was written by Pushkar-Gayatri and directed by Bramma and Anucharan M. Brimming with revealing detail and beautifully acted, the series examines crime, rebellion and retribution in a town in Tamil Nadu.

A cement plant catches fire the same night the factory’s union leader’s teenage daughter goes missing. The police investigation is taking place alongside Mayana Kollai, a folk festival dedicated to Goddess Angala Parameshwari. Amid the propelling energies of the festival, policeman Sakkarai uncovers crimes both new and old.

Sakkarai (Kathir) follows the trail laid by her boss Regina (Sriya Reddy), only to learn some uncomfortable truths about her. Nila’s father, Shanmugam (Radhakrishnan Parthiban), is both a fierce trade unionist and a difficult parent. His eldest daughter Nandhini (Aishwarya Rajesh) plays a key role which is revealed at the end of eight heartbreaking episodes.

Palani Murugan in Suzhal – The Vortex. Courtesy of Wallwatcher Films/Amazon Prime Video.

Suzhal was originally supposed to be a feature film, Pushkar-Gayatri said The couple, who live in Chennai, embarked on the project in 2014.

By then, they had already done the Chennai-based comedies Oram Po (2007) and Va – Quarter cut (2010). Vikram Vedawhich starred Madhavan and Vijay Sethupathi and became a box office scorcher, was still three years away.

“We started writing Suzhal as a feature film, but we quickly realized that we couldn’t go deep into every character in two hours,” Gayatri said. “We thought the theme would work best in a long version. At that time, the banners had not yet arrived.

In the meantime, they have developed Vikram Veda, returning to Suzhal after meeting with representatives of the Amazon Prime Video creative team. “We took a year and a half to write the screenplay and the dialogues,” Pushkar said. “A lot of time was spent researching the festival and relating its myths and metaphors to the main story.”

Suzhal is full of symbols – fire and water, burial and excavation, hiding and revealing. The feverish and hypnotic atmospheres of the story are provided by the Mayanna Kollai festival, which means looting of the cemetery. Each of the episodes corresponds to the rituals of the festival over a period of nine days.

The belief that the goddess Angala scours cremation grounds for hidden demons is directly tied to the missing teenager’s sister, Nandhini, who grapples with secrets locked in the recesses of her mind.

The festival was initially not part of the plot, the filmmakers said. When they were showcased at the event in a town near Vellore, “it was the X factor for us, the global metaphor,” Pushkar said.

Folklore powerfully reveals aspects of the human condition, the filmmakers added. “The ‘eureka moment’ was the belief that Angalamma drives out the demons buried in the cemetery,” Gayatri said. “We could connect a story of deeply buried memories to this myth.”

Aishwarya Rajesh in Suzhal – The Vortex. Courtesy of Wallwatcher Films/Amazon Prime Video.

Suzhal operates in the crime drama model while breaking out of it frequently. A strong strain of progressive thought runs through a genre that often moralizes and condemns.

Followers of the festival include marginalized people who seek solace in Angala’s indiscriminate embrace. Among them is a trans woman who gently corrects Sakkarai’s understanding of gender identity. The focus on open-mindedness goes through other moments – Regina coolly downs a drink or two; an extramarital affair is presented without judgment.

The ever-changing perspectives are captured in the scene in which Nandhini points to two types of shadows cast by a boombox, Gayatri said. “It’s easy for people to stereotype a person to make sense of things,” she added. “If you show [a different perspective]it could, to a small extent, open things up.

Pushkar added, “The essence of Suzhal is about how perspectives change when you start seeing people differently. The truth is somewhere an amalgamation of different perspectives, which brings us to social commentary. As a society, we end up judging people too quickly and get stuck with singular perspectives. This is a concern for us. »

Viewers understood Suzhalthe subversions. Pushkar-Gayatri received messages like, every time I suspect someone, Suzhal shows me my own prejudices.

Radhakrishnan Parthiban at Suzhal – The Vortex. Courtesy of Wallwatcher Films/Amazon Prime Video.

The series had a few extra layers and characters that were eventually cut. How did two creators who have only ever worked on time-limited narratives adapt to long-form cinema?

“There’s beauty in brevity, but the long form also gives us the ability to go off on tangents rather than sticking to a thread,” observed Pushkar. “When you watch a theatrical film, there’s a different lens because you have a captive audience sitting in a dark room. You can see the emotions down to that little wrinkle in your eyes when you laugh. You have to write short things [for cinema] show emotion. In long storytelling, as the screen size decreases, you have to stay on the shots a bit longer for the emotions and the story to register.

However, Suzhal also needed the “cinematic TV” feel, which was Amazon Prime Video’s brief to makers. Suzhal was conceived by Arjun Venjaramoodu and shot by Mukes to look like “a cinematic experience on the TV screen”, the filmmakers pointed out.

Suzhal – The Vortex (2022).

Along with greater depth in characterization, long-form television can also free up filmmakers to work with actors of their choosing. “The biggest freedom the web space has given us is choosing people who are the best fit for the role,” Pushkar said. They had worked with Kathir, who plays Sakkarai brilliantly, in Vikram Veda. (Kathir also starred in Mari Selvaraj’s scorching caste-themed film Pariyerum Perumal in 2018).

“We have seen everything Aishwarya Rajesh has done,” Pushkar said. “And we knew Sriya [Reddy] for years – we knew the kind of screen presence she has. There was no pressure on us to somehow launch the market value. Some of the actors, including beginners and non-professionals, were suggested by directors Bramma and Arunacharan.

Sriya Reddy in Suzhal – The Vortex. Courtesy of Wallwatcher Films/Amazon Prime Video.

Pushkar and Gayatri met as teenagers at Loyola College, Chennai and have been together personally and professionally ever since. After working in advertising for a brief period, they enrolled in American universities to study film – she at Northwestern University in Chicago; he at the University of New Orleans.

Their collaboration extends from their workplace to their home. “Most of the time we’re slumped on the bed with a laptop between us and we talk about scenes and put them down,” Pushkar said of their writing process. “We talk about a scene, one of us tapes it and the other watches it and makes corrections. We didn’t go into a strict schedule.

Gayatri added: “We are not disciplined writers. We are a bit slow and a bit lazy. Vikram Veda was written over seven years in fits and starts, even as other projects including Suzhalwere pregnant.

They encountered a different style of work in Mumbai, where they shot Vikram Veda. Mumbai’s film industry is “very systematic and professional in its way [filmmaking] departments are organized,” Pushkar said. The pay scale is also much better in Mumbai, they observed.

“It’s very specialized, which takes a lot of the pressure off us,” added Gayatri. Meanwhile, the Chennai film world runs entirely on passion, the filmmakers pointed out.

“Everyone bends over backwards to make a movie,” Pushkar said. “It may not always be the healthiest way to work, as some people end up overworking themselves because they’re so deeply committed to the project.”

Pushkar and Gayatri.

The Vikram Veda remake would have had a different set of tracks. Various reports over the years have claimed that Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan were cast, to only pass on the production of two heroes.

“The movie went through a lot, but we didn’t mind that – when it happened, it happened,” Pushkar said. “We know how to wait very well. It’s our natural way of doing things.

Hrithik Roshan, who replaces Vijay Sethupathi as Vedha, was the “first person in the Bombay film industry” to congratulate the directors after the Tamil release. “Someone had arranged a screening for him, he got our number somewhere and he called us,” Pushkar said. “We were in the middle of a function. I saw an unknown number, I answered the phone and he said, I am Hrithik.

What Roshan saw in 2017 will soon be revealed on September 30. Until then, viewers can get to grips with Pushkar-Gayatri’s vision through a series that offers a folklore-inspired lesson in ethics under the guise of police procedural.

Saif Ali Khan and Hrithik Roshan in Vikram Veda (2022). Courtesy of T-Series/ Reliance Entertainment/ Friday Filmworks/ YNOT Studios.

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