Vilangu Series Review: An arresting murder mystery
The Vemal-starrer is a worthy addition to Tamil web series scene
When it comes to web series format, particularly murder mysteries are the most preferred choice of streamers. They offer makers the freedom to get into the details -- of the crime, the motive, the psyche of those involved, and the investigation procedures. There aren't any worries about showcasing violence or graphic imagery. This is probably why Vilangu, despite having a feature-filmish plot, has been made as a web series. Despite being one of the finest in producing ingenious crime thrillers in India, the Tamil industry is still taking baby steps when it comes to the web series arena. The 7-episode series Vilangu is a worthy one, to begin with.
Director: Prasanth Pandiyaraj
Cast: Vemal, Bala Saravanan, Ineya
Streaming on: Zee 5
The series is set around Vembur police station, situated in the outskirts of Trichy. Vemal plays Paridhi, a Sub-Inspector in the station, who is supposed to be on leave for his wife's delivery. However, a fateful phone call informing the discovery of a half-decomposed dead body turns things topsy-turvy. A can of worms is left open and it is up to the cops in Vembur station to solve it before the outside world knows.
The show begins at a leisurely pace with a 41-minute long first episode establishing the police station, its inmates, and their functioning. The conflict is introduced at the 35th minute and before we wrap our heads around it, the episode ends on a cracker of a cliffhanger. It is a compelling start for a thrilling mystery thriller. But unfortunately, the same high is not maintained throughout.
The writing takes convenient routes and relies a lot on coincidences. It's as if all crucial information is laid around and it's just a matter of time before the sleuth lays an eye on it. While watching a crime-thriller, it is the investigator's body language and how he cracks each puzzle that instils a sense of excitement in the viewer. But in Vilangu, Vemal carries a restrained approach and does more of a mechanical job. Contrary to the usual cop roles in Tamil cinema, his Paridhi is an ordinary policeman devoid of any special skills. He's neither brainy nor brawny. What works for him is his humane approach. More on that later.
In cop narratives, it is a usual trope to have a demanding family set up to establish the cop's helplessness in balancing work-life and personal life. Vilangu treads the same path with Ineya playing Revathy, Paridhi's wife. She is mostly complaining about his absence but her whining feels justified because he doesn't care to communicate anything with his wife. Even when he is pushed against the wall and eventually gets suspended, we don't see him sharing anything with her. All he keeps repeating is "velaya iruken paa", "vanthurren pa".
Vilangu falters big time with how it portrays violence. The Vembur police station is shown as if it's a torture cell. Custodial violence seems to be the only way to interrogate. Throughout the show, there are disturbingly extensive scenes of cops employing various methods to thrash the accused. The lighting, composition, and staging in these scenes are all reminiscent of Visaranai but unlike in Vetrimaaran's film, here, it isn't shown from a critical lens. The violence is normalised and not for once called out. Even when done, it's a trick to deceive the accused and gain his trust.
Bala Saravanan, an actor known mostly for his comedy roles, is terrific in Vilangu. He plays a hot-headed constable who is the station's go-to man when it comes to third-degree treatment. He is a pure-hearted cop but ballistic with his approach. It is a role totally in contrast to Vemal's subdued Paridhi. It is this antithesis that works in Paridhi's favour as he is the only one in the station with a kind-hearted nature in treating the main accused, a tough nut serial killer.
Though quite late in the series, it is interesting that the makers chose to explore the psyche of the killer and thus, the motives behind his crimes. Without justifying his heinous actions, the writing manages to convincingly convey where he comes from and why he turns an outlaw. Due credits to the actor also who performs the role brilliantly without putting a foot wrong. It's also a case of smart casting as the actor's everyman looks escape him from suspicious eyes.
The series dedicates ample space to showcase the cultural side of the locality and the people's beliefs. It also works as a commentary against discrimination, especially caste-based. There is plenty of 'unga aal', 'avanga aal' dialogues, even within the police force. It paints a telling picture of how deep-rooted caste is and how it works in discriminating people. In a sense, both the 'hero' and the 'villain' are from marginalised sections. While Paridhi works for his upliftment through education and securing a good job, the killer resorts to violence.
The word Vilangu translates to both handcuff and animal. It is an apt title for a series which is about cops as well as a deceitful man, who hides a beast in him. Leaving aside the horrifying violence, the convenient plot points, and the insipid 'family' scenes, Vilangu makes for a compelling watch.