For a major part, director Sharan Koppisetty keeps you glued to the proceedings and extracts fine performances from a capable cast
Last Updated: 12.56 PM, Apr 14, 2022
Merely a week into their marriage, Ajay and Geetha are murdered by a small-time burglar in Vizag. Ajay is the second son to a matriarch Saraswathi, a strong woman who could go to any length to protect her family. Geetha is the only daughter of an ayurvedic doctor Komarraju and Thulasi. Even before the families can come to terms with the death of the newlywed couple, they find a severely injured man lying unconsciously in a car in front of their house. While trying to rescue him, they soon realise that he's the one behind the murders of Ajay and Geetha. The next day, the killer is mysteriously found dead in their shed. Where's the tale headed?
Except for a rare Anveshana or the two-part Drushyam series, small-town thrillers set amid a family backdrop have always been a rarity in Telugu. This space is a big test for a filmmaker, for the mishmash of family drama, crime and thriller genres in the same story doesn't come easy and the writing needs to be taut and still have a solid emotional foundation too. In BBC's UK-based show One of Us, the makers of Gaalivaana unearth a potent source material in this space and adapt it well to cater to the palette of Telugu audiences. Gaalivaana is far from perfect but keeps you on your toes as long as it lasts.
Gaalivaana begins with a twin murder of a newlywed couple, shows how it shocks the daylights out of their family members and gradually sucks us into a twisted tale, where none can be trusted on their face value. The show works as a celebration of grey shades in humans - thankfully, there are no saints, black and white characters with vanilla conflicts. What would one do if they meet the killer of their son/daughter at their home? Can we differentiate between right and wrong while we deal with a crisis within the family? There are no convenient answers.
The director Sharan Koppisetty uses the idyllic, creepy small-town ambience well to amplify the tension. The interpersonal relationships may leave you bitter at times as every character is upto something, hiding a can of secrets, looking to play the blame game. Sharan succeeds in introducing this unusual bunch, and its traits to viewers quickly without diluting the intensity of the proceedings. Given the bunch of messed-up characters around, you are invested in the narrative. The show picks up momentum when the cops begin to investigate the families about the murders and realise all is not well.
The over-the-top family drama in Gaalivaana is a certain deterrent - the characterisation is inconsistent at times and you don't quite understand why some characters behave the way they do. What convinces a young medico to share intricate details of the twin murders in her family with a patient over Facebook? Why does it take nearly two decades for a wife to realise that her husband has Parkinson's? Why does a cop need to be a drug dealer to save money for her daughter's operation? Why do the DNA reports of a soon-to-be husband and wife land at their home before marriage?
As long as the focus is on the crime scene and the whodunit angle, Gaalivaana keeps you glued, but the individual threads of characters lack meat. There's very little basis to justify the creepy behaviour of Komarraju's son Srikanth. The intimacy between Sravani and her patient Dev appears forced and one can't fathom why she goes back to him repeatedly despite his insensitive behaviour. The equation between Marthand and a divorcee, fighting for the custody of her child, isn't established properly either. The appearance of an elderly character related to the victims in the final stretch (to unlock a key twist) is too sudden and far-fetched. The dots don't connect as well as they should.
The success of the show is that its strengths are good enough for us to look beyond its shortcomings. The pacing of Gaalivaana is a certain advantage - most of the scenes are slick, crisp and precise. The fact that you don't know any of the characters fully makes you curious about their future actions. Regardless of a few hiccups, the director is more or less in control of the way he drives the plot. Gowra Hari's tense background score aids the director in crucial sequences. A few dimensions of the puzzle are purposely left unsolved, to hint at a possible second season.
Sai Kumar is the backbone of the show, he makes the most of his experience to sink his teeth into a juicy, complicated character of an over-protective, conservative father. While Radhika Sarathkumar's authoritative screen presence is an obvious asset to her portrayal of Saraswathi, one feels her capabilities were underutilised. Ashrita Vemuganti does a neat job, but it's the younger bunch that impresses the most - Chandini Chowdary, Nandini Rai, Chaitanya Krishna and Sharanya Pradeep, to be precise. They show ample maturity in digging deep into their parts, playing them with a touch of restraint and composure.
Thagubothu Ramesh is refreshing in a supporting role of a cop while Md. Armaan, Surabhi Jayachandra are passable in their brief characters. Veteran actor Srilaxmi gets a raw deal in a blink-and-a-miss appearance. Within the limitations and the restrictions of the backdrops, the cinematographer Sujatha Siddharth is effective in enhancing the bite of the drama through the visuals. Gaalivaana is probably the best work of Sharan Koppisetty in his career and gives him the license to test his storytelling mettle.
Gaalivaana is a gripping family thriller that has a few shortcomings but makes up for it owing to the taut treatment and engaging performances. The family drama portions are slightly underwhelming while the show is more satisfying as a thriller.