Sunflower Series Review: An exceedingly bizarre mystery comedy
Vikas Bahl and Rahul Sengupta direct the oddest, most annoying web show of the year
I was initially on board with Sunflower, a new comic murder mystery series written and co-directed by Vikas Bahl. By the fourth or fifth episode, though, my face was in my palm. This is a show so willfully bizarre, so obsessed with sight gags and random squeaks and squeals, that it ceases to amuse after a point. There hasn’t been an Indian web show so epically nuts. “Risky is awesome, babe,” says a character in the series. Well, so is thought, deliberation and artistic restraint.
Cast: Sunil Grover, Ranvir Shorey
Director: Vikas Bahl, Rahul Sengupta
Streaming on: Zee5
The plot is workable enough: a reverse whodunit set in a Mumbai co-operative housing society. Vikas, as most would know, was a producer on the 2013 mystery thriller Ugly. He pays a direct tribute at the start: actor Girish Kulkarni, the memorable Marathi cop from Anurag Kashyap’s film, dons a version of that character here. But where everyone was a suspect in Ugly, the fun in Sunflower – on paper, at least – comes from watching the wrong guy take the fall. The main suspect, played by Sunil Grover, is Sonu, a bachelor living alone in Sunflower society. But there are also others who draw the eye: the victim’s neighbours, his ex-wife, even the Chinese delivery boy who brought his food.
Some of the characters are fun to track. Sonu, for instance, has a meticulous morning ritual: he steps outside his flat, peers through his own door hole, fixes the mat, scans the opposite apartment and takes the lift. Ranvir Shorey’s cop is always doing the crosswords and wears thick convex-lens glasses, like a po-faced Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys. The rest are mere cartoons. The conservative society elders – one of them played by Ashish Vidyarthi – won’t pass muster in a YouTube sketch.
Though he’s been getting dramatic roles for a while, this is Sunil’s first-ever series outing as lead. He lends a sly, slimy quality to Sonu, and seems attuned to the character’s innate weirdness. But the show plays it safe, giving him scene after scene of mirthless slapstick. In one, he’s chased around by a cab driver; in another, he loses his pants in a loo. It’s Comedy Nights all over again – minus the comedy.
Sunflower ventures a muted sermon on everyday bullying. The victim, a large man egotistically named Raj Kapoor, routinely harassed his neighbours. Life in housing societies is inevitably made up of these micro-aggressions. It made me expect something deeper to the nonsense – to no avail. The series isn’t concerned with how people live or interact in co-op communities. Its meanness spills in every direction, from a maid who works the floors to a tertiary character who’s run from home.
Queen, Vikas’s second feature, boasted some of the funniest Hindi film lines ever written. Sunflower sinks its head in comparison. The English insult—“think the sun shines out of your arse”—is thoughtlessly translated to Hindi and played. And at a pub, Sonu’s date rubs cocaine in his mouth and says: “This isn’t paste. It’s entertainment.” Go, liar.