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Naveen Chandra in a still from ‘Inspector Rishi’

Naveen Chandra in a still from ‘Inspector Rishi’
| Photo Credit: Prime Video

The quest to find the objective truth, or to question the lack thereof, is a fascinating exercise that most good investigative thrillers like to indulge in, and after Suzhal: The Vortex and Vadhandhi: The Fable of Velonie, we have another Tamil long-format police procedural from Prime Video that aims to tell an engaging tale by blurring the lines between fact and fiction.

Only this time, the investigation is woven into a fascinating folk horror narrative, and that the supernatural already operates within a subjective belief system further makes this hybrid genre a wonderful stage for such an endeavour. And as Nandhini JS, the series creator of Inspector Rishi, would agree, it also seems quite fun to think about. In the forests of Thaenkaadu, near Coimbatore, a series of inexplicable murders baffle local authorities. The modus operandi is the same for them all — the body is found on a tree, wrapped with webs from a glowing green web-spinner insect, and there are no visible wounds, blood, fingerprints, or traces of poison in the body.

The locals believe that a vanaratchi, a forest spirit, is behind the murders. But Rishi Nandhan (Naveen Chandra), a crime branch inspector charged to lead the case, believes there is a sinister group behind the murders and that the whole vanaratchi shtick is just a ploy to either distract the authorities or to send a bigger message. Forest officer Sathya (an impressive Srikrishna Dayal) and forester Irfan (Kumaravel), apart from fighting to protect the ecologically sensitive forests from poachers, now have to help investigate the murders; they too don’t buy into the whole vanaratchi narrative, even when two female guards, Kathy (Sunainaa) and Selvi (Saranya Ravichandran), claim they saw the spectre.

When more mysterious murders occur, and witnesses speaking of supernatural occurrences come forward, Rishi, along with sub-inspectors Chitra Lokesh (Malini Jeevarathnam) and Ayyanar Moorthy (Kanna Ravi), find their rationality in disarray. Add to this the several open leads, his past demons troubling him in an unusual form, and severe migraines due to an accident in which he lost an eye, and Rishi has too much on his plate.

Inspector Rishi (Tamil)

Creator: Nandhini JS

Cast: Naveen Chandra, Sunaina, Kanna Ravi, Elango Kumaravel, Srikrishna Dayal, Malini Jeevarathnam and more

Episodes: 10

Runtime: 40-60 minutes

Storyline: Police and forest officers band together to investigate a series of murders in a forest that is widely believed to be the work of a forest spirit

With quite an anchored teleplay, Nandhini attempts a high-wire walk of sorts in interspersing the horror investigation aspect with that of all that goes in the lives of these characters we follow; like Ayyanar’s troubled relationship with his estranged wife, or Chitra battling heartbreak and a world of trauma as a queer woman. This, of course, doesn’t mean a fine balance is maintained throughout; after two fantastic introduction episodes, the writing in the next few feels contrived especially when the characters’ pathoses are told through back-to-back scenes with too many expositions. Though you are interested in seeing how these arcs turn out, Chitra’s specifically, the horror and the investigation do take a backseat for a while.

Due credit to Nandhini for writing this much-needed and poignant sub-plot for Chitra. Debutant actor Malini does a great job playing a lonely, heartbroken lesbian woman without a soul to understand all that goes through her heart. A scene that states how vanaratchi, a castaway demigod, is also a metaphor for queers and all those who don’t abide by social conformities is simply outstanding.

Unlike anything seen in the Tamil horror space, the vanaratchi makes for a fascinating horror subject, and having such a unique spectre in a setting like a forest helps a horror series that consciously shies away from the routine genre tropes like jump scares and gore. But though horror fans may not have many complaints, Inspector Rishi isn’t quite the best investigative thriller out there. It surely is a letdown to see the detective in Rishi become more of a puppet to the horror story; he reacts to the developments more than deducing anything impressive. Barring a few good twists in the end, it’s effortless to keep note of the several on-paper clues — like who gets how much screen time, who seems too good to be true, and what might be the next red herring — to predict how the story might take shape.

A still from ‘Inspector Rishi’

A still from ‘Inspector Rishi’
| Photo Credit:
Prime Video

However, Inspector Rishi was never a series that wished to pull off something earth-shatteringly remarkable. Just halfway into the series, it seems clear that Nandhini has taken a more classical approach to storytelling, and the grand reveals, red herrings and genre conventions we get later also prove the same.

But watching a series manoeuvre through familiar tropes in an effectively old-school fashion, without setting itself many grand goals or trying to do too many things, is a breath of fresh air. Add the invested performances from the cast, great production design and music, binge-watching the ten episodes seems like a breeze.

Inspector Rishi is currently streaming on Prime Video

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