Sengalam Series Review: Effective performances elevate this predictable tale of power play
But director SR Prabhakaran, who has already proved his penchant for rural dramas, strikes gold with the mounting of Sengalam too
They say loyalty in politics only serves a personal purpose. Probably why any political power game finds itself at the centre of a vicious and unending loop. In some ways, political power is like energy... it can neither be created nor destroyed and can only be transferred from one political leader to another. The plot of the new Zee5 web series, Sengalam (Red battlefield), is all about this never-ending battle of passing the baton.
Director: SR Prabhakaran
Cast: Kalaiyarasan, Vani Bhojan, Sharath Lohitashwa, Shali Nivekas, Prem Kumar, Pooja Vaidyanathan
Streaming on Zee 5
The nine-episode series shows two parallel tracks colliding in the end by untying the knots and joining the dots. Each episode is divided into two segments. It travels from present-day Virudhanagar where Rayar (Kalaiyarasan) and his two brothers are in a hideout after committing murders, to the past where a family, which holds the legacy of holding the municipality chairman post for three generations faces stiff competition from a strong political rival. Will the third-generation chairman, Rajamanikam (Pawan), married to Suriyakala (Vani Bhojan) finally be dethroned?
Rajamanikam's sudden demise sets the ball rolling and brings to the fore Suriyakala's machinations to rule the panchayat. In this quest, she uses the wisdom of her friend Natchiyar (Shali Nivekas), who is the queenmaker, and her brother Rayar. With more deaths, more revenge, more twists, and more politics, Sengalam unfolds as a game of chairs, if I may.
The initial episodes are focussed on establishing the characters, and the narrative is burdened by exposition that wants to force-feed a barrage of information and make us familiar with the political history and the players. Although a few of the scenes seem a bit staged, Sengalam gains momentum after the third episode when Suriyakala strategises her way to the top.
Those who have observed Tamil Nadu politics know of the camaraderie and fallout between former CM J Jayalalithaa and her close aide V Sasikala. In many ways, Sengalam seems to explore a similar equation with its principal characters albeit approaching it through the purview of local governance. We also see the lengths to which the family, headed by Rajamanikam's father Sivangyanam (Sharath Lohitashwa), goes to hold on to that post.
Although the plotlines result in some predictable pay-offs, it is burdened even more by some underwhelming staging, especially with the lacklustre police procedurals, and the onscreen hype about the election results doesn't really translate off-screen. The lack of inventiveness in the visual style, and a template narrative style don't help the promising premise.
But director SR Prabhakaran, who has already proved his penchant for rural dramas, strikes gold with the mounting of Sengalam too. The fragrances of the Chettinadu swirl around through the dialect, the vintage houses, the crooked lanes through the hamlets, and the vast and arid forest ranges.
In a dialogue-heavy series, actors Kalaiyarasan, Vani and Shali put up assertive performances that elevate this rather familiar tale. There is an interesting layer involving Rayar's estranged wife Mathi, who might come across as just a comic relief, but has a poignant moment where she reflects on how not all women get to do what they love. Such brief moments of pathos keep the narrative ticking, and another such scene was the one involving Rayar and Suriya as they discuss the chasm between them despite the unprofessed love found in the crevices of their hearts.
There is no doubt that politics cannot be without the influence of class and caste, and Sengalam subtly brings in these angles in the exploration of how innocent individuals are often caught in the crossfire of devious plots. This desperate craving for the all-consuming power to break out of the shackles, and reach the upper echelons, is best explored through the convincing Naachi, who has no qualms admitting politics is like fishing in murky waters. In fact, it is her pertinent questions about politics that form the base of Sengalam. "Why should the Rajamatha and Rajaguru of politics always be behind the scenes? Why should people who can't think in the frontline while intelligent ones remain behind...?"
Even if the hype is not as big as the Kattappa Baahubali cliffhanger, Sengalam does have a cogent one in the form of 'Who killed Rajamanikam?' There is a hint of a sequel, which promises to answer many more questions, including the strategy of the new chairperson, and the plight of Rayar and his brothers. With the players and the plot in place, all that is required of the sequel is to have more focus and finesse. Will that happen? That is one more question that the sequel will hopefully answer.