Irai Series Review: Sarathkumar shines in a series that needed more depth
Should the next season right some wrongs and tap better into the potential of the content, we might really have a stellar crime-thriller in the Tamil OTT space
Where does one find hope in a society that poses more questions than it gives answers? How do we keep moving forward knowing that some social evils have no rhyme or reason? Sarathkumar's debut web series Irai sets up a story that deals with one such social evil--sexual exploitation of children--and constructs a real, gritty world in which to tell an investigative story. Irai explores the solution of law and order as the only real cure to the social evils, and it does so through two narratives: one that shows how crooked and corrupt law enforcement can be when evil is in power, and the other that shows how truth triumphs when coupled with courage.
Director: Rajesh M Selva
Cast: Sarathkumar, Abhishek Shankar, Srikrishna Dayal, Gouri Nair
Streaming on: Aha
We are first introduced to a narrative that begins in 1985. Ashok Kumar (Srikrishna Dayal), who runs a child prostitution racket in Kodaikanal, manages to use his political influence to get out of prison. The narrative follows Ashok's gruesome, monstrous life as the head of the racket. The second narrative, set in present-day Kodaikanal, follows a missing investigation headed by Robert Vasudevan (Sarathkumar), a disturbed police officer who is brought in as a consultant in the case. The person missing is a high-profile politician, Shivakumar (Abhishek Shankar), who we soon realise is Ashok's boss and the mastermind behind the racket.
Initially, the juxtaposition of the two timelines serve to introduce the setting of this world; however, eventually, we are shown one needlessly elongated sequence after the other. This becomes a bit tedious, especially in Robert's story. After a long character introduction with exaggerated buildups, we are repeatedly shown scenes that are meant to show the inner demons that Robert is facing, but they never dig deep. A subtle detail invariably gets followed by a dialogue exposition of the same. For instance, even after we know that Robert's wife Sheeba discourages him to go back to fieldwork due to past trauma, we repeatedly get dialogues about how he should only be a 'Sherlock' and not a 'James Bond'.
Right off the bat, the first shocking feature about Irai is how blunt it is with its depiction of sexual assault. In Ashok's narrative, we see the ordeals that Ashok's wife and her child with Shivakumar face. With minimal dialogue, the series manages to disturb us and it is only the hope of possible redemption and retribution that keeps us going through such gruesome depiction. One might wonder if the repeated display of these crimes is used only to bring about a shock value rather than scratching beyond the surface of the issue or in adding real value to the story.
Irai also fails to delve deeper into the characters, with most tagged as good or bad. We never fully understand what makes some of these antagonists who they are. The only character who works well is Robert. Irai can also be seen as an exploration of Robert's inner battles. We come to know that his sister was kidnapped in his presence by Ashok's men, and Robert still struggles to move on due to a lack of closure. As one of the episode titles reads, only the truth that can liberate Robert. As a police officer too, Robert fits the investigative plot well. His backstory and specialisation make him something of our own John Wick in a sense.
When it comes to the investigation per se, Robert fails to make a strong impression. For someone touted as the best in the business, only a few strokes turn into big strides and this is majorly due to how fruitless the writing of the investigation is. Even additional characters are underutilised, like the character of a forensic expert who is used just as a tool to make Robert aware of some details we are already aware of. Another majorly underutilised character is that of a police officer named Anitha, touted as the Watson to Robert's Sherlock. She adds no individual perspective to the investigation, and only either follows or doubts Robert's approach.
Irai is staunch in how simple and clear it wants its structure to be, but this clarity doesn't extend to the writing. The biggest misfortune is how even the seemingly cathartic end of the series gets taken away, and we are asked to wait for a second season to get it.
What stands apart in this series is Sarathkumar's acting. The actor looks the part and is well-aware of what the role demands from him. Even in shots that can easily be tagged as 'mass-y', it is Robert who we see. Irai is also helped majorly by its splendid cinematography and editing. In particular, the transitions between the sequences are creatively well done. If Irai goes on to tap into its enormous potential and rights its wrongs for the next season, it might just turn out to be our very own Happy Valley / Broadchurch. And we have waited long enough to deserve such content.