Touted as a suspense-comedy, the web series Sunflower, streaming on Zee5, is a painfully boring watch. What starts off promisingly fizzles out in the next couple of episodes, leaving us with a long-drawn, haphazard, infuriatingly unfunny series. Vikas Bahl, he of Queen fame, claims story, screenplay, as well as direction credits, and has helmed this undercooked project that is neither comedy nor suspense thriller.
The "why" of the whole rigmarole is bafflingly unclear. A man spikes the tender coconut water his boorish neighbour is in the habit of having every morning with poison (bromethalin), and the neighbour dies. Police arrive at the building, search everyone's flats, but can't find any incriminating evidence at the murderer's house. We are introduced to another neighbour, the supposed do-gooder Sonu Singh (a hamming Sunil Grover), and from thereon it is a freefall downwards. The whole series centres around this particular entity, who is modelled as a desi Mr. Bean, forever bumbling, getting into trouble, eager to help, an over-friendly good Samaritan.
The first two episodes attempt at showing some case-related investigation, but you soon realise it is all a ploy to display the antics of the eccentric Singh. His position in his office, his budding romance with a colleague, his obsession with cleanliness and symmetry, and what have you are spread all over the remaining episodes.
Characters keep popping up, flitting in and out of disconnected situations. You have a thundering South Indian flat owner, a sort of moral guardian, aiming at becoming chairman of the building association. His tiffs with his rebellious daughter, his perpetual distrust in young people, his cross-examining and insulting prospective flat owners – these take up substantial screen time. Then there is the murderer and his irritatingly ingratiating wife, who casually hide evidence, lie through their teeth, and get away with murder, literally. Their conflict with the now dead neighbour is conveyed through flashbacks, but the viewer fails to understand why that became the trigger for such a heinous crime. And he is supposed to be a double-PhD professor!
There are the usual bumbling police department folks, along with a philandering officer, more interested in carrying on his dalliances than in investigating. Somewhere along the way, there are lying maidservants, rave parties, irate bosses, hypochondriac residents, angry relatives turned kidnappers… phew!
Ranvir Shorey, as the investigating police officer, is underwhelming in a poorly written role. With thick spectacles, he looks and sounds subdued and uninterested. His junior, Inspector Tambe, played by Girish Kulkarni, is painted as a flamboyant over-the-top skirt-chaser. Between these two, they can hardly agree on anything, and are always trying to put down the other.
Ashish Vidyarthi is clearly wasted in a unidimensional role. Mukul Chadda is irritating and fails to do justice to the wronged avenging-angel character he plays. The female actors do not have much to do, playing stereotypes as they are. There is the puff-blowing fashion influencer, the confused rebel kid, the small-town aspiring TV performer, the doormat wife, and the hottie office gal, all single-dimensional cardboard cut-outs.
The man of the moment, or rather the series, is Sunil Grover, who plays out another version of his character from Kapil Sharma's show. With a pasty smile on his face, he sleepwalks through the role, repeating inane antics and phrases ad nauseum. The comedy is insipid and flat, with egg-on-your-face situations going awry. Slapstick never looked so tiresome.
Was the director really there on the sets? It seems more like a "go as you like" kind of situation. A one-line plot is stretched over eight painful episodes, to the point where you want to bang your head against a wall and ask, "What's the point?!"
In an attempt to be topical, everything is stuffed in. Intolerance, bullying, discrimination, rigidity, apathy: everything is sprinkled in the attempt to make this dish edible. It doesn't, of course, and the audience is on the last dregs of tolerance. By the fifth episode, I lost interest and just wanted the whole nonsense to get over. There is a limit to dumbing down things and insulting the intelligence of the audience. Irrelevant, disjointed subplots make the mess even more indigestible. You don't know what is going on and couldn't care less.
By the time the infuriating Sonu Singh's antics get over, and you are totally at the end of your tolerance level, the story takes a last twist! And then closes on a supposed cliff-hanger, probably in anticipation of another season. Please, please don't make a season 2 of this trash. My blood pressure can't tolerate more jumps. Have some mercy on the viewers. No more sunflowers….I prefer marigolds, jasmine or dahlias!