Vilangu review: A solid, satisfying Tamil crime thriller series

‘Vilangu’ makes for a gripping watch because it downplays its surprises intelligently, and doesn’t fall back on flashy, unrealistic reveals that revolve around a hero cop.
Still from Vilangu with Vemal and others
Still from Vilangu with Vemal and others
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After Zee5’s middling Tamil web series Auto Shankar, the Over-the-Top (OTT) platform has come up with another crime thriller, Vilangu, directed by Prasanth Pandiyaraj. Crime thrillers, in general, tend to be set in urban areas in mainstream cinema. However, OTT platforms have increasingly been turning to small-town mysteries, probably because they offer a departure from the routine fare and also stand a chance to attract new audiences from Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities (Netflix’s Aranyak, set in a small-town in Himachal Pradesh, is a recent example). Vilangu, which takes us through the twists and turns in a murder case, revolves around the Vembur police station, with SI Paruthi (Vemal) leading the investigation.  

The seven-episode series begins with a policeman noticing a flashlight in the jungle. But though he doesn’t find anyone, a body later surfaces at the spot. More intriguing, the head of the corpse goes missing even as the place is swarming with police. Prasanth builds a realistic picture of the Vembur police station. It’s an unimpressive building with scaly walls and rickety furniture. This is not a state-of-the-art facility where science or technology can break the case; instead, the police have to rely on their network, gut instincts, and yes, custodial torture. The camera follows Paruthi as he goes from room to room, dealing with his daily work and its chaotic nature that doesn’t allow him to pause and think about the shock value of a crime.

There are different threads to the story; seemingly unrelated crimes and victims who approach the police station. At times, it feels like the facts are too densely packed and it’s difficult to see the light, but Prasanth gradually connects the dots and presents a finished puzzle that is mostly satisfying. The strength of the writing lies in the characterisation. While the camera doesn’t shy away from exposing the brutality of the police force, we also see the pressure that they are under to solve cases. They have little time for family (as one senior cop exclaims, he visits a town to hand out invitations for his daughter’s wedding and gets entangled in a brutal murder scene instead), and must solve cases with few resources and plenty of red tape. The narrative doesn’t take on a justifying slant but instead presents it as a grim reality. 

While Vemal’s Paruthi isn’t above breaking a few bones if he thinks it will get him results, he is, in comparison, a much more humane cop than his colleagues. He isn’t the swashbuckling Singam kind of officer. He gets yelled at by his superiors, he’s conflicted about not getting to spend time with his pregnant wife, and he’s under tremendous stress from having lost the corpse’s head in the case he is investigating. Bala Saravanan as Karuppu, Munishkanth as Uthaman, RNR Manohar as a senior policeman and the rest of the cast also do well to keep the viewer involved in the goings-on at the Vembur police station. 

Revealing the name of the actor who turns out to be the prime accused will be a big spoiler, but it must be mentioned that the twist is unexpected, and the unraveling of the whys and hows of the crime too, isn’t predictable. I was, however, disappointed with the female characters. Paruthi’s wife, Revathi (Ineya), is saddled with the stereotype of the nagging wife and is almost always crying or yelling in every scene. We see a few women cops in passing but none of them gets a pivotal role in the investigation. The other women are painted as seductive sirens, and there’s scant effort to humanise them in the same way as the male characters. There are some references to caste politics (an “avanga aalunga”, “namma aalunga” kind of narrative that remains vague), but the series doesn’t really sink its teeth into it, and leaves it hanging in the air as an “also there” factor. 

Overall though, Vilangu makes for a gripping watch because it downplays its surprises intelligently, and doesn’t fall back on flashy, unrealistic reveals that revolve around a hero cop (the background score, too, is committed to the plot and not Paruthi). It’s a cat and mouse game where we aren’t sure until the end who is the cat and who is the mouse. Well played. 

Watch: Trailer of Vilangu

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.

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