“Pushpavalli comes mainly from the thought of insecurity.” That’s what Sumukhi Suresh says about the inception of Pushpavalli, which she created, co-wrote, and stars in/as. “I mean, if you watch her, she’s supremely insecure. And her insecurity has manifested into the whole talking scenario.” Pushpavalli the character loves to dwell in negative feelings, glorify them, and wallow in self-pity. And Suresh says that’s the point of the show: to talk about negative feelings, instead of shunning them away. “Maybe deep down I’m also making sure that whatever that insecurity is, it’s addressed.”
The titular character that Suresh plays belongs to a story that is, in her words, “fiction-ish”. Like Pushpavalli, Suresh herself studied food science, worked at a library, and moved to Bangalore for a guy—with different results IRL. Which is the other fascinating thing about the show: it explores new environments; spaces that we don’t generally see on TV. “How much will I show you same office, same house, same environments where the jokes will be the same? Plus, the whole library, the whole, you know, Nikhil’s packhouse, or Pushpavalli’s Food Science degree, these are all environments that you’re listening to for the first time, and you’re interested” she tells me. Why Bangalore? you might ask. It’s not just because the plot is inspired by Suresh’s real life, but the multiplicity of languages coexisting in Bangalore that makes Pushpavalli what it is. “The thing about Bangalore is you can speak all languages, and they just know it. Even the auto guys—they know Hindi, English, Kannada, Tamil… that’s how people are in Bangalore. I like that about Bangalore. If I’m speaking in English, it doesn’t seem off. If I did the same thing in Mumbai, I’d have to up the Hindi.”
Suresh insists that Pushpavalli, and all the other characters for that matter, would not be as unique without Debbie Rao, the director, and the Writers’ Room. “We in the writers’ room are very brutal. Like we have Ayesha [Nair], Sumaira [Shaikh], Naveen [Richard] and I. Sumaira and I are the brutal ones, and Naveen is the fun one. Ayesha flips between one and the other, but is also as brutal as we are.” They make sure that Pushpavalli, being a problematic character, gets what she deserves. She pays the price of her toxicity. It’s rare to see such complex female characters in Indian shows, but Suresh insists that they don’t write with the idea of representing a particular kind of ‘woman’. She is just a person with flaws and isn’t rewarded for them. “Keeping everything aside, people write characters and that’s that. I don’t think writers can be gauged or asked, “how can you do this?” Because a story writer is a story writer, and that’s that. Is it right or wrong? Are stories right or wrong, are people right or wrong? I don’t know, I think it’s very unfair to just call people right or wrong.”
That’s probably why every character in Pushpavalli is so unique. “I am a big fan of a flaw,” Suresh says. Nikhil can’t be good looking and funny, Pankaj may be verbally abusive on the outside but has a big heart and is a softie, Vidyuth is pure and tall, dark, handsome, but kind of a lallu—a chomu. Pushpavalli is not a “stereotypically funny girl, but her personality is quite high.” But why does she do the things she does? Is it because of love? Suresh’s answer is enlightening: “Pushpavalli loves feeling bad for herself, it’s also because of her conditioning and her upbringing. But I don’t think she has ever been in love. Nikhil saw her. That’s it. He was the one who saw her for the first time. And that’s exactly what it is: nobody saw me, you saw me, and now I want this. Also, for Pushpavalli, she thinks that love is not something that is simple. She thinks that people like me, or people who look like me, don’t get love easily. So we need to work hard for it. But that’s not how love works. That’s not how affection works. You don’t have to work hard for affection, you just have to be yourself.”
Where Pushpavalli pushes the boundaries of traditional comedy, is the shift from humour to discomfort. “I am big fan of making people laugh and then making them uncomfortable as fuck. I love that. It’s a huge tick I have; truly something I enjoy. I enjoy watching that also, which is why one of my favourite shows is Fleabag.” But to get the flow right, Debbie and Naveen are of great advice. Debbie’s direction, Suresh says, it what allowed smooth transitions from funny to butt-clench, or discomfort. And the perfect way to sum up Pushpavalli Season 2 is “We welcome you like: ‘come, it’s gonna get sad, just prepare for it.’”
When I asked her what quarantine shows she recommends, Suresh promptly said “if people haven’t seen Fleabag, what are they even doing.” She’s currently watching Barry on Hotstar, and Euphoria. “Also Mahabharata!” she exclaims. “Everyone’s being very weird about I’m like I know everything about it because it’s Mahabharata, but I love it, because it’s Mahabharata. So, suck it.”
If you haven’t watched Pushpavalli season 2 (released March 12), GO WATCH IT right now on Amazon Prime. It’s got everything: humour, real people, wacky adventures, and an underlying darkness that makes you jump out of your skin. It’s everything that the 2020 audience needs to watch.
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