Written and directed by: Cheran
Cast: Prasanna, Kalaiyarasan, Divya Bharathi, Aari Arjunan, Kashyap Barbhaya, Jayaprakash and Sarath Kumar
Duration: 9 episodes
Available in: SonyLIV
Two episodes into Journey, I realised that the show falls into a genre that’s rarely explored in the streaming space, where thrillers have a hegemony because it’s a genre that makes you select ‘watch next episode’ instantly at the end of each episode. Journey is pure drama. It does feature rather sensational elements like crime and violence but it’s not centered around them. Where its heart lies instead is in the lives of five incredibly honest and righteous people who have to overcome severe hindrances during their journey to reach a goal that will solve their problems. This means we have to bear long stretches of melodrama where the emotions are rubbed on our faces with little to zero subtlety. And it’s both exhausting and effective.
Ameer Sulthan (Kalaiyarasan), a topper in M Tech, is a victim of religious discrimination and is robbed off a potentially life-changing opportunity due to bigotry. Ameer hails from an economically backward household and his miseries have no end. A hardworking Raghav (Prasanna), arrives in the US to make a life for himself but Trump’s VISA policies threaten his job and commitment to supporting the education of underprivileged students back home. Everything is perfect in the life of Nitesh (Kashyap Barbhaya) but a cyber crime he commits in an intoxicated state breaks it all—his family, love, and career prospects. Pranav, a socially conscious youngster wants to contribute to society and make a difference in politics but the death of his brother, the breadwinner of the house, throws his life into chaos. Latha (Divya Bharathi) wants to stand up for herself and aspires to reshape agriculture in India but she and her friends don’t have enough support to accomplish their mission. Every character has a challenge and motivation. The solution? A coveted job in a reputed automobile company.
The beauty of Journey is that it makes you root for all its main characters. Sure, the stakes in the case of Raghav, Pranav and Ameer feel a bit higher because of the seriousness and the emotional heft of their stories have. Latha’s story is the lightest one among the five and Nitesh’s challenge is way more internal. But in the case of Pranav, Raghav and Ameer, it’s downright misery, poverty, and grief, making them the participants to root for. The other side of the coin is that the stories of Pranav and Ameer are so sad that it is hard to endure some portions. But how much sentimentality is too much sentimentality? In that sense, the making of Journey feels too simple, even if it plays with a screenplay that keeps jumping from one story to another and different timelines of the same story. The usage of the music is also right on the face. It has long stretches of melodrama that keep going on and on even after commuting the grief. Yes, one of the points of the story is to track the fall and rise of its characters but the show invests so much time on their fall that you get restless. On the flip side, it makes you root for the character to succeed so at least you can be saved from the on-screen misery.
Cheran brings the recurring elements in his films—career pursuit, family bonding, redemption, commitments, and social consciousness—to Journey and weaves a tale that’s familiar but honest. You can see this honesty seep through the narrative in tiny moments. A father who has undergone surgery and is still in the hospital bed dearly advices his son to eat well. “I’ll be happy only if you eat well,” he says. A young woman on a road trip comes across three old, hunger-stricken beggars and offers them a meal in a restaurant. When we see the close-ups of the old men and women having a satisfying meal, it’s hard not to be moved by such a humane moment. And Journey is, without a doubt, an agmark Cheran product and is filled with touches we have seen in his films. It portrays the ugly side of life and society but also tries to instil hope. It tells you that life will not always be fair but gives an assurance that all will be well in the end. It’s meant to motivate you, like the second half of Autograph (2004). And here too, there is also a relationship—between Raghav and Jessie, a former colleague in the US—that’s borderline romantic but is treated platonically. The show does leave you with a warm feeling and a tiny bit of hope at the end but to get there you have to be very patient.