The fascination for exploring tainted, real-life characters in the web series format continues with Zee5's latest offering Thiravam. Exploring a fictionalised journey of the once-famous scientist Ramar Pillai, who claimed to have come up with herbal fuel as an alternative energy source to petrol in the 90s and was later convicted of fraud, Thiravam marks the digital debut of film actor Prasanna.
In reality, Ramar's popularity was shortlived as several allegations were levelled against him for the usage of paraffin wax in his fuel. With several experts claiming and proving that his herbal fuel formula was a fake bid to gain fame, his reputation went for a toss after which not much has been seen or heard about him in public. Thiravam is an interesting attempt to remind another generation of a colourful character. How well does it succeed though? As dubious or wacky as it sounds, the prospect of getting into the mind of Ravi Prakash a.k.a RP is an interesting one for the viewer. Especially in a courtroom sequence, when a budding lawyer ambitiously compares him to the genius of Galileo, who was once mocked at, but was later revered, you feel the director is indeed confident of his material and the characterisation of his protagonist. There are shades of brilliance, to begin with, but as the series goes ahead, Thiravam takes the regular gangster-drama route instead of exploring the mind of RP. The basis behind RP's interest in nature is quite weak. In fact, many other characters surrounding the lead protagonist are more appealing as characters. All that the series wants to do is to portray the conspiracy theory behind RP as a wronged scientist, whitewash his image as a man who never got his due. Probably, the makers might be true but the narrative's forever-biased tone doesn't help. What is so special about the fuel and how it can change the face of the world without basic testing? The answers are never provided. Every scene is only an attempt to show that the scientist is the noblest soul in the world and that he could do no wrong. But where did the makers forget about the scientific aspect in the first place? The only thing you know about RP is that he's above all flaws. A great father, an honest man and next what, a saint? Politicians and goons are after RP to find the secret formula to his fuel that could threaten the existence of petrol giants and erase them from history books. The series forever only keeps moving around the cat and mouse chase between the possible exploiters of the herbal fuel formula and RP. The treatment is so yawn-inducing and cliched and you never feel the pace of the story. In between, there are unnecessary political satires, sexist humour, a character that's a look-alike of Narendra Modi and multiple sub-plots that convolute the narrative.
The focus on the lead protagonist is lost and you feel like you're watching a commercial potboiler revolving around cops, mafia, and politicians. But even if you treat it like a commercial outing, Thiravam doesn't work. For all the discussion on herbal fuel, there's not a single sequence that shows the scientist working on the chemical formula. The detailing is amiss and to compound problems, the director is unsure of how to end his characters.
The Ramar Pillai issue was a relevant one in the 90s where renewable source of energy wasn't a big thing in the global market. However, in 2019, how relevant is a discussion on herbal fuel when there are vehicles running on gas and electricity on the roads? The series doesn't manage to be contemporary enough and the treatment, probably as an ode to the 90s films, is so jaded and outdated. Prasanna struggles to fit into the shoes of a scientist. Save his near-absent body language, the pot-bellied look with a grey-haired wig hardly suits him. Thiravam will rank among his weakest performances to date. Even supporting actors like Indhuja, Swayamsidha, Nagendra Prasad and Kaali Venkat fare better than him.
Cinematographer Arvind Krishna turns a director for Thiravam. Neither he has the material to liven up matters on the screen nor does he have the directorial capability to uplift the mediocre writing. So many scenes appear in the series with little or no purpose and it looks like the editor had taken a solid nap while working for Thiravam. The cinematographic appeal and the visual diversity of the series (Anbu Dennis and Sridhar) are quite impressive though. It's an irony that such a dull series had to emerge out of such an interesting, colourful character. Prasanna should have been doubly careful before choosing this one for a digital plunge. Alas, better luck next time!