Topless Zee5

Creator: Dinesh Mohan
Cast: Guru Somasundaram, Bazak Gaziler Prasad, Gokul Anand and Rohit Muralidharan.
Streaming Platform: Zee5

Zee5’s offerings are beginning to feel like a quest to scrape the bottom of the barrel of badness. This time, it is the Tamil clickbait Topless. The show–6 episodes of half hour each–by no means attempts to enter the domain of sex and sexuality. It’s just that the whole story is hinged around the portrait of a topless dusky woman painted by a British man during the colonial era. The painter would be deemed unlucky; all his buyers would stumble curiously towards death and his fingers chopped off as punishment. The descendents of both, the painter and the subject, are trying to get their hands on this rare painting that will be auctioned soon. It’s such an exciting premise, but nothing much holds. The first episode is a muddle of timelines and characters and it takes at least two episodes to feel relatively settled in.

But being bizarre isn’t an alternative to good writing; it can merely elevate the story, it cannot be the story.

It is possible that the entire show is let down by this need to be bizarre. As web-shows are trying to acclimate to the increased number of eye-balls they turn, there is a lurking question of what makes the ideal web-show? Something that doesn’t need the scale a big-release film demands, but neither be isolating as an indie. The answer Zee5 might have chanced upon (Perhaps Netflix and Amazon Prime too, given the shows being pushed out) is quirk, manufacturing odd circumstances for humour, or make it into something memorable. (Remember that show with the alcoholic French policewoman and the whiny Indian housewife?)

But being bizarre isn’t an alternative to good writing; it can merely elevate the story, it cannot be the story. Just take a look at some of the quirky elements pushed into the narrative for no reason whatsoever. Many of these are barely explained.

  1. An indoor weed garden
  2. A dildo stashed in the dashboard
  3. Laughing gas used to make bombs
  4. A Chinese bartender ghost guiding a character towards the climactic battle

Topless

People with guns sneeze and kill, drones become health hazards, animal masks are used to mask the humans who are acting like animals anyway, horoscope readers on television are predicting the fate of characters, the camera perspective changes, sudden bursts of monochrome sit by the side of over saturated frames; all of this shows an attempt to be stylish, but what do we of style if there is no substance? 

In one of the most shocking moments, a feminist is bludgeoned to death on live TV by a politician who swears by Hindutva, arguing for strict laws on womens clothing. For a moment I thought they would take this somewhere, but it becomes a mere rock for the story to stumble upon. Giving importance to circumstances over characters would work if the circumstances are well written and add to the character. Everyone in this show is a caricature. You don’t extend any emotion to anyone like an inert, joyless affair.

Another fault is the timelines that are all over the place, pacing around, forwards, backwards, with no sense of continuity. The time pops up on screen randomly. The British woman’s accent is lost and found to be lost again. By the time the last two episodes roll, I couldn’t care, for the characters, for the convoluted scheming; who wants to kill whom? Who has the money? Who is on whose side? It doesn’t matter, they are just going to have the characters all bump into one another, in car accidents, fights, chance encounters, or in dusty backrooms of an auction hall. If this sounds exciting, then you are right. It does sound exciting. The problem is it only sounds exciting. The rest is all withered blood-lust. 

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