Towards the end of Zee5‘s Sunflower, we see Sonu Singh (Sunil Grover) helping (well, not exactly helping, if you ask the person concerned) an old man (Sameer Khakhar, who Khopdi from cult-classic Nukkad) get to a hospital. On their way, they get into an argument regarding the lift.
They are undecided on the question of which button should be pressed to bring the lift to them. This all-too-common confusion with lifts makes for a humorous parley between the two confused souls. Sonu tries to explain to Sameer Khakhar’s character it’s the ‘down’ button, however, the old man believes the ‘up’ button will bring the lift up.
However, this isn’t the first time that this confusion with lifts is presented in the show. In the very first episode, the two municipal workers leave the deceased Raj Kapoor’s body in the lift, which then automatically closes itself. They run back and try their best to get the lift to open but fail in their attempts. At the same time, the Ahuja family kid arrives and presses the correct button. The lift opens.
This is one of the many examples that showcase the ‘throwbacks’ and elements of attention to detail present in the series. Some of the others would be Kapoor’s (or Chekhov’s) shirt present in the first episode or the wall that has been stained by the impact of many ping-pong battles that Kapoor has had with it. Like the confusion over the lift buttons, the importance of these ‘minor’ elements is not well-known to the audience till they move further into the series. The shirt that seemingly wandered off from Kapoor’s apartment becomes Sonu’s saviour in a later episode. The ping-pong and wall episode is an important chapter in the Ahuja-Kapoor fight.
Intermixed with these ‘minor’ elements are the ‘major’ elements. These are focussed and easier for the viewer to follow. There is the story of the ‘straw’, which is an important piece of evidence in the story and its journey flips the fates of characters in the story. At the same time, the creators ensure that these elements along with the characters and story work together to act as ‘trope-breakers’. This is a crime series, yet it is much more than a crime thriller.
The story begins with a murder. And the viewer is fed with the perpetrators and their motives from the very start. The evidence in form of a coconut, a syringe and straw is right there before us. And yet there are other factors involved to add confusion. To begin with, we have Sonu Singh. There’s something about him. His obsession with arranging things in order and maintaining cleanliness (another factor that turns out to be important later in the series), his fly-on-the-wall presence (the lift sequence with Justina and Paddy), and his propensity to behave like a clown in front of women he gets attracted to (with a streak of desperation as shown during Justina’s party) make him a character of interest.
This character of a cheerful, happy-go-lucky loser with a tragic backstory might not seem too different from, say, Shahrukh Khan’s Sunil in Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa. But in this particular story, he becomes an ‘element’ himself. The happy-go-lucky guy with a tragedy is present at the wrong place at the wrong time; he is seen injecting substances into certain items, has a particular axe to grind with Mr. Kapoor; and above all, he is too much of a simpleton.
So even though Ranvir Shorey‘s Inspector Digendra and Girish Kulkarni’s Tambe try to get closer to the real culprit, they are often misled by Sonu’s demeanour and ways. The viewers, too, are in a fix. While we are informed of the identity of the killer, the show is always on the verge of a twist. This makes us wonder if there is a possibility of the involvement of others in the murder of Mr. Kapoor.
The expectation one has developed over the years of watching crime-thrillers is the presence of a twist late in the show that acts as an extra source of surprise. An example is the contrast between the French movie Les Diaboliques (1955) and its remake Diabolique (1996). While the original had one basic twist towards the end (the mistress and husband plotting the entire sequence of events together), the latter decided to add another layer of events.
The logic behind these ‘extra twists’ is perhaps that the viewers have already been introduced to a specific kind of surprise over the years, and a new sequence of events is needed to retain their interest. (It didn’t help the remake.)
So the viewer is always on edge in Sunflower, anticipating another twist in this murder mystery. If Sonu is indeed innocent, then there is the expectation that somehow there will be resolution for our happy-go-lucky protagonist. If he (or someone else) is indeed a dark mastermind who is playing a near-flawless game to set up others, even that is expected to be resolved towards the end. This resolution need not necessarily be in the form of the ‘good side’ winning, but the viewer always expects a resolution.
And there is indeed a surprise, just not the kind we are expecting. The twist has more to do with inverting the tropes related to a crime series. It has more to do with overturning the expectations of the viewers. If the viewers follow Gurleen’s story, they can get a great insight into what the twist will be like. Gurleen is a sweet-talking, good-natured girl from Chandigarh. She has aspirations of becoming a singer in Mumbai, but this isn’t supported by her family members. We are shown that she is a traditional girl who doesn’t drink because she has to focus on her riyaz the next morning. An all-too-familiar expectation of a small-town girl who fights to achieve success in the city of dreams is built for the viewers. Someone that the audience can sympathise with. Yet her story doesn’t finish in the manner one would’ve expected. Not only does she fail, but she also finds it tough to come to terms with her failure. Her story becomes a metaphor for the entire web series itself.
Therein lies the success of Sunflower: it defies expectations with the help of its great cast, story and ‘elements’. It is a crime thriller, yet it does not have a conventional ending. This is because it is always more than just an episode of Columbo, where we are shown the crime in the beginning and then Peter Falk’s legendary detective goes about solving the case.
It is about societal disintegration that is represented through Ashish Vidyarthi’s Dilip Iyer and his society committee. Dilip Iyer often proclaims his goal of making Sunflower the ‘best society’, but their definition of ‘best’ stands at odds with not just progressive ideas but even basic values of human decency. So the committee looks into allotment of houses to newcomers, and objects to applicants based on their gender, sexual orientation, religion, relationships, caste and class status. The society, in general, also objects to the arrival of Justina (Dayana Errapa) because of the way she dresses and behaves. At one point, when Justina has arrived into the society along with Gurleen, two old men are seen commenting “Aise hi phailti hai society mein gandagi“, even as the entire society gawks at the girl. The beauty of Sunflower comes in this very sequence, for the old man who states this throws away his cigarette, while Justina ensures that her cigarette butt is disposed of in an empty pack. The moral decline of society has been established with this very sequence.
Perhaps, the best parts of the web series are the human interactions that we get to see. These include the hilarious sequences involving Tambe (a character that feels like an extension of Girish Kulkarni’s character in Ugly) and the maid (Annapurna Soni), where the over-talkative maid spills everything except the relevant facts, much to the irritation of Tambe. There’s also an extremely hilarious conversation between Sonu and his older neighbor, where the hypochondriac unleashes an expletive-laden tirade against the irritating yet helpful Sonu. Later, we see Sonu sticking with the old man only to get closer to a nurse he finds attractive.
The acting and direction are spot on. Sequences are interspersed perfectly; for instance, Juhi’s narration of her break-up with Sonu is shown along with present-time Sonu alone with Sameer Khakhar’s character. The viewers are being informed about an event that Sonu might perceive as betrayal and at the same time, they see visuals of him moving uncomfortably, if not suspiciously, around the old man. Even if there was little to no suspicion in the minds of a viewer concerning Sonu’s conduct before this scene they are filled with an element of doubt now.
Sunil Grover’s Sonu is the man in focus, a complicated man, whom the viewer can sympathise with at one moment, laugh at at another and suspect at a different time. Ranvir Shorey perfectly portrays the role of a no-nonsense and persistent cop who teams up with Girish Kulkarni’s flamboyant yet effective Tambe to solve the case. Mukul Chadda excels in the role of repressed Ahuja, who can only show his manliness behind closed doors and strikes from behind. Even the minor characters have a presence and meaning to them. This could include the delivery boy also named Sonu, who is troubled by another Sonu, the maid and the guard who start an impromptu fight at the police station, or the reactions of the lone dissenter in the societal committee, the helpless chairman Wadhwani.
The story mainly juggles the angles of the investigation, Sonu’s life, the societal meetings, and Ahuja’s attempts at getting away with his misdemeanours. The rest of the sequences add to the above and create the beautiful experience that is Sunflower.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.