AUTO SHANKAR SEASON 1 REVIEW : AUTO SHANKAR IS ENGAGING, BUT ALSO A BIT WANNABE
As far as Tamil web series go, Auto Shankar is a cut above most of them — at least as far as filmmaking is concerned. The emphasis is clearly on the visuals, and the cinematography and art direction departments lovingly recreate the Madras of the late 80s.
The series charts the rise and fall of the notorious Auto Shankar, a gangster-pimp who became a dangerous force to reckon with thanks to his connections to those in power. The show opens with Auto Shankar serving time and waiting to be hanged from the gallows, and shows us how he became the criminal that he was. Starting out as a bootlegger selling illicit liquor, Shankar rises in the ranks after taking over a brother. His “ponnunga”, lead to bigger and powerful connections, especially Chandrika (Swayam Siddha), his moll, who catches the fancy of a minister. But as his influence spreads, so does his arrogance. He begins to think of himself as invincible, and ends up antagonising the very people who were the reason behind his rise. And when he graduates into a murderer, it becomes only a matter of time before his past catches up with him.
Where Auto Shankar is less satisfying is in its writing. Save for its central character, the other characters are not so clearly defined, and many (like Shankar’s accomplices) come across as strictly functional. Some major characters, like the cop who helps Shankar with connections in the beginning and latter has a fallout with him, do not get a well-defined arc. And rather than present Shankar as a complex personality, the writing straitjackets the criminal in an all-too familiar template — a man with not-so-nice past taking up crime as a means of survival, making a swift rise to the top, getting too cocky, and falling down as fast as he rose.
Of course, any story has to make its audience identify with its protagonist, but rather than present this tale as a cautionary one, the series also seems to be a little too much in love with its lead character. And in the name of humanising a notorious serial killer, it ends up swaying more to other side by glorifying his acts — be it the violence (the background score turns celebratory) or the sex (an episode with an actress is just pure indulgence), the series presents them with a voyeuristic glee.
Given that there is no censor board to deal with, the filmmakers do get indulgent with both, eagerly wanting to show off both these aspects. This, at times, makes the series feel wannabe. Look, we, too, can make actors take off their clothes! We, too, can come up with blood-spattered visuals! Like Sacred Games!
And towards the end, as Shankar finds his past catching up with him, we get visual cues (Christian motifs, an extended shot of his body writhing after he is hanged) that are intended to make us feel a bit sympathetic towards him
But the good thing is that these issues do not stop the series from being a compelling watch. The pacing feels just right, so we don’t lose interest. The staging, too, draws us in. And the dialogues, filled with colourful language, lend authenticity. Then there is the casting, which feels perfect. Appani Sarath is fantastic as the titular character, while the supporting cast manage to create an impression despite their characters not being that fleshed out.
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