Sunflower On Zee5 Is A Quirky Mess, Unable To Muster The Funny, Twisty, Murder Investigative It Wants To Be

The quirky comedy directed by Vikas Bahl is anchored solely by Sunil Grover’s sincerity
Sunflower On Zee5 Is A Quirky Mess, Unable To Muster The Funny, Twisty, Murder Investigative It Wants To Be

Vikas Bahl (Accused of sexual misconduct by his former employees at Phantom Films, cleared of all charges following an internal inquiry by Reliance Entertainment) should have learned from the failure of Shandaar that quirk can elevate a story, it cannot be the story. Quirk can help establish character, it cannot be the character. Unless, of course, it has the kind of balls-baring audacity of a Delhi Belly or the relentless punk insolence of Eric Andre. But Bahl, with co-director Rahul Sengupta, goes back to the same genre, to overwrite a point he clumsily made the first time round. Instead of the glittering mansions in sweatered UK, Amit Trivedi's melodic swoon, and the hypnotic, palpable chemistry of the leads of Shandaar, Bahl moves the drama to an almost asexual upper-middle class apartment complex in Mumbai, Sunflower. This is a sticking point throughout the show — 8 episodes, 40 minute each — which is aesthetically blunt, every frame given an over-designed texture. 

The very first scene shows a murder by injecting toxins into the coconut water of Raj Kapoor (Ashwin Kaushal). He dies on the toilet seat, emphasized by a shrill fart. We know who the murderer is — the opposite neighbours Mr and Mrs Ahuja (Mukul Chadda and Radha Bhatt). The intent to murder is made clear over the 40-minute episodes — neighbourly bad blood from taking over parking spaces, to cussing, and car scratches, and even crude jokes of taking each other's wives. Raj Kapoor is separated from his partner, living alone amidst the rich curated filth the production design mustered. Mr. Ahuja is quirk-abusive towards his wife, who is quirk-slow on the uptake. 

Inspector Digendra (Ranvir Shorey) and Tambe (Girish Kulkarni), quirk-serious officers, enter the scene, and the capital-q-quirky investigation begins. Following the traditional whodunnit, they never look at the obvious lead, instead fixate on sweet Sonu (Sunil Grover), because through warped logic, and silly coincidence, all signs point to him being the murderer.  

Sonu might have OCD, for he cares about symmetry, labeling, and neatness with a sincerity that the makers irresponsibly mine for quirk. I don't understand it. He is in his mid-30s, tucks his shirt in diligently, he is single, and picks up the phone and has complete conversations with his mother without rancour or resentment. He has an uneasy awkwardness, and unsociable demeanour that can easily be interpreted as creepy. Grover picks this character and dusts the creepy connotation, imbibing it with a sympathetic sweetness. The two most moving moments of the show are propelled by him — one showing Sonu at the wedding of his girlfriend (She quirk-bizarrely dumps him after her boss — who has tried and failed to seduce her —  asks her to reconsider Sonu for another, more moneyed man, over dinner and drinks. She agrees with little hesitation.), and one showing him at the back of his car-pool, sandwiched between two people who are texting lovers; he pretends to text someone, just to get with it. 

The problem with the show is that it never lingers or gives us too many of these moments, which are truly moving, and give a sense of the pathos behind the peculiar. The rest of the men of the show, especially the very annoying to look at sobriety-behind-soda-glass-spectacles of Ranvir Shorey, are all stuck at being peculiar, and rarely manifest anything remotely funny. The women are uniformly at the vanguard of social movements — the rebellious baby-lesbian, the sexy influencer, the small-town runaway. Even Mrs. Ahuja gets a forced final dialogue of redemption, something like the 'Senti Wali Mental'-feminism. There is little flesh attached to any of their characters so their climactic one-upmanship doesn't have any of the cathartic pay-off. 

Bunged into the proceedings are apartment complex politics — the overt racism, Islamophobia, uniform conception of singles as drugged, drunk, promiscuous, non vegetarians, and divorce's moral connotation. All of this has a lite-touch humour that doesn't go anywhere. Mostly, because the series doesn't go anywhere, ending on a cliff-hanger where every thread is left unresolved. The kind of incomplete excised viewing experience we have come to expect from streaming releases, be it the arterial Aashram or the apolitical wonder-kid of streaming The Family Man. The fulfillment in watching the present season is not so much the ending of it, but the expected promise of another one. But what if we just don't want more? 

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