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Converting reports from newspapers, unofficially shared information and gossip into fiction is something that the audience seems receptive to. At the same time, our society does not allow a thorough and faithful reconstruction of biographies of some famous people. Striking a balance between the two and mixing fact and fiction in the right proportions tends to make for successful storytelling in the movies and web series world. This strategy particularly seems to work for political crime thrillers. The web series Sengalam streaming on Zee 5 seems to have got this formula right, being that it is an engrossing political drama.
A no-holds-barred battlefield
The story of the web series in seven chapters goes as follows: (Spoiler Alert!)
A woman is walking through a thorny forest in the vicinity of Virudhunagar, accompanied by a Rajapalayam breed dog with a small vessel hanging from its neck. The woman meets three young men, her sons, who have gone into hiding after killing three people. She brings them food.
After a while, she comes out into the clearing and then reaches the main road where she is accosted by a constable, who makes enquiries with her. Sensing danger, her sons descend on the scene as if from nowhere, attack the policeman and drag him away.
Granted that these scenes seem to drag a little, when it could have been made crisp and fast, and the audience starts to feel a little weary. But the subsequent scenes make up for the initial drag, and take viewers on a thrilling journey, narrating a political game of intrigues, cut-throat ploys and cloak-and-dagger operations.
Despite the gaps and slack in the screenplay, the film is by-and-large interesting because of the strong characters. In fact, Sengalam would attract the attention of not just film buffs but even politicians, because it seems to be critical of political affairs that prevailed in Tamil Nadu not long ago
The story moves further like this: Suryakala is the second wife of Rajamanickam, president of Virudhunagar municipality. Rajamanickam has the municipality under his thumb as did his father Sivagnanam and grandfather Sathyamoorthy. As he holds on to his post as if it were his family legacy, his detractors Ganeshamurthy, local MLA, and Ravi Chellappa, the party’s district secretary, who are jealous of his position, struggle to establish their clout in the area.
Just as Rajamanickam has outside enemies, so does he at home — his brother Natesan and sister Maragatham.
In this situation, during his honeymoon trip, Rajamanickam meets with an accident in which he dies and his second wife Suryakala survives. Thereafter, a byelection to the post of councillor is announced. When Sivagnanam thinks of fielding his widowed daughter-in-law Suryakala as a candidate, Maragatham and her husband oppose the idea. Therefore, Sivagnanam is left in a fix.
Suryakala, who learns about her father-in-law’s dilemma, brings her schoolmate Nachiyar and Nachiar’s brother Rayar as her political advisors.
Sivagnanam decides to field his other son Natesan in the fray; both Nachiyar and brother Rayar create certain circumstances using their tricks and ploys that lead finally to the fielding of Suryakala herself in the elections.
Thereafter, Suryakala becomes the president of Virudhunagar municipality. However, Nachiyar and her brother are pulling the strings in the administration helmed by Suryakala who has had everything going for her till the time when something unexpected happens that turns her life upside down.
In retaliation, Rayar and his brothers commit three murders and go into hiding. Whom does Rayar kill? What is the reason for committing murders? Sengalam spins a story of conspiracy, intrigue and behind-the-scenes mysteries in nine chapters.
The essence of this web series is the political battlefield teeming with blood, sweat, tears and fears.
Vani Bhojan as Suryakala and Shali Nivegas as Nachiyar play the lead roles in Sengalam. Kalaiyarasan appears as Rayar. Sharath Lohitsava, Viji Chandrasekhar, Vela Ramamoorthy, Bhagavathi Perumal, Bux, Muthukumar, Arjay, Daniel Pope, Lagubaran, Premkumar, Pavan, Gajaraj, Pooja Vaidyanathan, Manasa Radhakrishnan and others are part of the cast.
With about two dozen people playing the main characters, there are a few hundred people in the gang that appear in the background. It’s their stellar performance that makes the film worth watching.
If Vani Bhojan comes and goes quietly, Kalaiyarasan is roaming around aggressively. Shali Nivegas as Nachiyar easily impresses the audience with her impeccable performance.
Vetrivel Mahendran’s cinematography has no space for glittering visuals but tries to create a realistic ambience. Dharan Kumar’s background music brings out the underlying spirit of the scenes. The way Sengalam has been edited by Biju Don Bosco, it feels like one is watching a TV soap.
Director S R Prabhakaran has used only two words ‘today’ and ‘one day’ to separate the present and the past. Everything is told in a back-and-forth style, touching the main knot of the story.
Casting the Suryakala-Nachiyar duo as ‘non-biological sisters’, delineating how Nachiyar uses her political acumen to bolster her friend’s power… all of these have too obvious connections to TN’s former political landscape that it’s hard for the audience to miss
Although the nature of the events is thrilling, the way they are portrayed in most of the scenes is a bit slow-paced. Similarly, the director’s silence on some questions that arise in the minds of the audience naturally indicates that he is toying with a sequel.
Yet, despite the gaps and slack in the screenplay, the film is by-and-large interesting because of the strong characters. In fact, Sengalam would attract the attention of not just film buffs but even politicians, because it seems to be critical of political affairs that prevailed in Tamil Nadu not long ago.
Tamil cinema has witnessed several political films such as Ennuyir Thozhan, Amaithippadai, Makkalaatchi, Iruvar. Several scenes and lines in those films evoke memories of a few top politicians. But they were all designed for commercial successes and applause from fans.
Sengalam speaks of a contest that targets the post of a municipality president and of how politicians are leaving no stone unturned to attract voters. Its main plot of a particular family sticking to a post in a dynastic manner within the democratic setup seems to be hinting at a sensitive and controversial topic in the State’s politics.
Casting the Suryakala-Nachiyar duo as ‘non-biological sisters’, delineating how Nachiyar uses her political acumen to bolster her friend’s power… all of these have too obvious connections to TN’s former political landscape that it’s hard for the audience to miss. Is Tamil political consciousness not too engraved with the famous Jayalalithaa-Sasikala kinship to be erased?
The lines spoken in the film such as ‘these two are non-biological sisters; is it not the talk of the town?’ make the message all the more loud and clear.
But showing the lead character Suryakala as totally uninitiated and ignorant in politics and Nachiyar as training her politically is fraught with trouble as the supporters of the real-time original leaders may not take to it kindly.
These are the things that strike a common viewer. But apart from this, Sengalam has a subtext that takes keen analytical skill to decode – an ideology that may not be understood on the surface level. This aspect coupled with the manner of suggestively delineating the inner turmoil of the main characters makes this web series come off successful. There is a message in it, which adds up to the success of the series. A message that’s not trumpeted, but conveyed unobtrusively.
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