While it’s convenient to believe that Pushpavalli is India’s answer to many Netflix films that revolve around a plus size-woman at the forefront and her tryst with love, it goes a lot beyond that. The show isn’t about the titular character confronting her inner demons and her weight issues alone – it also tries to be a flavourful ode to an ever-receptive cosmopolitan city (Bengaluru), mirroring the pressures of the arranged marriage system, while being a satirical glimpse of the hot-headedness of the millennial generation and the loneliness it experiences at some level.
The high-pitched tone of the series is largely suggestive of the madness that persists in the lives of its protagonists. The second instalment of the show is here to prove that their ambiguities aren’t going to die out any time soon. Pushpavalli Parasuraman, who works as a trainer in a library cum kids centre, reluctantly gets engaged to a fellow Bengalurean Vidyuth, in what she feels is a hasty move to get over the turbulent end to her equation with her ex Nikhil Rao. Pushpavalli’s nosy-yet-concerned mom literally pleads her daughter to salvage this rare opportunity of getting hitched. But Pushpavalli’s past keeps haunting her. Pankaj, the owner of the library she works at, neither can avoid nor detest her.
A viewer’s interest in the show is dependent on how he/she comes to terms with its feisty, flawed characters whose sense of morality is fragile. The loud, screechy tone may not always work in favour of the show, but the lighter moments are beautiful. The conversations where Vidyuth compares Pushpavalli to actress Khushbu, insists on her consent before getting physical, has cute banters about Federer, Nadal and Sampras, are written with an unmistakable genuineness. Pushpavalli’s portions with Nikhil have their element of charm too – their uncanny ways of getting back at each other through humour, discussions around beauty, personality have a life-like vibe to them
Pankaj has his moments with Swati too, a single mother of a teenager who's a regular at his centre. The excuses they both find to communicate through video calls while Swati heads to China (with the excuse of facilitating a conversation with her child) and the sequence where he expresses his love for her through a mouth organ have an inherent sweetness rarely spotted in on-screen romances of today. These romances aren’t without their complications, but the simplistic charm strikes a chord.
Pushpavalli addresses generation divide innovatively through the lens of the arranged marriage system – the wickedly entertaining conversations between Pushpavalli’s mother, her daughter and Pankaj, splattered with the right mix of Tamil and English are a riot. The moment where Pankaj in a fit of rage shouts ‘Oh Jesus’ in front of the mother during an engagement and she confronts him for uttering a word about Jesus Christ in a Brahmin household, you know the writers have got their idea of a generational clash right. The conservatism about a girl having a guy friend in an alien city, the submissiveness of a desperate parent with a plus-size daughter who considers the latter as seen as a sign of weakness, the stigma surrounding the pre-marital intimacy between a soon-to-be couple are among many issues tackled with the right element of street-smartness.
The Kannada flavour in the show comes from Vasu, a lady who heads a woman-only PG in the suburb Koramangala. The many layers to her character (she daydreams, is stingy about arranging groceries and perennially suspicious about the personal life of the PG residents), the innate ‘localness’ and spontaneous in her dialogue delivery (don’t miss the scene where she wrongly pronounces a North-Indian girl’s name in the house) cheekily represent the accommodation woes of single women in the city, where they are criticised and shamed for their ‘independence’ too.
However, there’s a subplot where Pushpavalli shoots itself in the foot – the segment where the protagonist tries to hijack Nikhil’s consignment in a bid to even out what the latter did to her in the past. The series is impressive as long as it sticks to urbanely concerns and complications in the romantic life of a flawed protagonist. The moment it tries to be larger-than-life and takes a cinematic route to present the dark side of Pushpavalli, the show fails big-time.
Yet, Sumukhi Suresh stands tall and is sparkling as the confused protagonist, spearheading the series with élan – she portrays the ambition and the firmness of the character while also not losing sight of her vulnerabilities. Naveen Richard is excellent as Pankaj – he is so effective in getting the pitch of the character right with a trademark sarcasm only unique to him. Latha Venkataraman as Pushpavalli’s mom is a superb find, while Manish Anand’s role as Nikhil appears to have taken a backseat in comparison to the first season. Shraddha donning the role of a PG-owner Vasu is a genuine surprise with her on-screen energy. Vidyuth Gargi, Preetika Chawla are among other actors who make a mark while they last.
Pushpavalli Season 2 is quirky and wayward, but there’s honesty in the writing apart from the consistency in its tone (it’s another debate if that works well or not). The series, helmed by Debbie Rao, is an unapologetic attempt at representing the rise of the woke culture of this era with a comic touch. As said before, the weight of its protagonist is only one among the many concerns of the series.