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Team ‘Inspector Rishi’ on telling an investigative horror story for a fearless new-gen audience


The long-format police procedural is one sub-genre that has certainly benefited from the OTT boom, especially in the Tamil streaming space. Prime Video has been putting its best foot forward with titles like Suzhal: The Vortex and Vadhandhi: The Fable of Velonie. But the upcoming 10-episode series, Inspector Rishi, is no ordinary cop story; in fact, the series takes on one of the least explored hybrid genres to tell its tale: investigative horror. While Tamil cinema fans would have seen horror titles like Miruthan and Jackson Durai featuring a cop in the lead, it has been more than a decade since Eeram, which is probably the last memorable pure-genre investigative horror featuring a cop in the lead role.

But how fascinating is it to pit humans who are trained to be logical and normalised to real-world horrors with supernatural, other-worldly beings? This quality of investigative horror seems to have captivated series creator Nandhini JS in choosing this subgenre, especially in catering to a new-gen audience who is not scared of anything. “When we were growing up, we were scared of the darkness. I remember how after seven or eight in the evening, you wouldn’t find anyone on the streets. Nowadays, even kids aren’t scared of darkness; everything is brightly lit and surrounded by so much information.”

Even magic secrets are revealed in a matter of few clicks on the Internet, and audiences are more sceptical of the divinity and paranormal, making it harder to convince audiences of a horror tale, adds Nandhini, who earlier created the horror graphic novel, Sivappu Kal Mookuthi, and the vampire comedy series, Nila Nila Odi Vaa. “The issues now revolve around whether to believe in the paranormal and if so, to what extent.”

A favourite horror character or movie….

Nandhini JS: I would watch even a bad horror movie so picking one is difficult. A recent fascination has been the nature spirits and I find forest spirits very captivating

“What if a police officer investigating a series of murders is told to believe that the murderer is a forest spirit? You can’t write that in a police report, and so, you will have to investigate further, for which you will need a rational mind.” Showing spooky events parallel to a murder investigation adds suspense and mystery, making the viewer invest more in the series, says the creator.

Inspector Rishi tells the story of a group of policemen investigating murders that are said to be the work of a vanaratchi (a forest spirit). If that is the case, why is the series titled after the cop leading the investigation and not something like…vanaratchi? “When I started writing the story in 2010, Rishi’s character is what popped up first. Naturally, he became the centre-point of the story.”

A still from ‘Inspector Rishi’

A still from ‘Inspector Rishi’
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

Nandhini wanted Rishi to be a ‘timeless character’ like Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, Sujatha’s Ganesh—Vasanth, Subha’s Narendran—Vaijayanthi, or Rajesh Kumar’s Vivek—Roobala—Vishnu. “They can investigate a specific case in a film or series and take on another case in a sequel, and so on.” That people end up remembering the character more than the story made it compelling, adds Nandhini. “After writing Rishi, and figuring out how he sees the world, came the story — at which point I thought of adding the supernatural — and then came the characters who accompany Rishi.”

And so now, let’s hear from Inspector Rishi himself and all those who accompanied him in this tale.

Naveen Chandra

A favourite horror character or movie….

I’ve seen a lot of horror movies but Vanaratchi haunts me still. I’m deeply in love with her, and the actors who all played the role have done a fabulous job

Naveen Chandra in a still from ‘Inspector Rishi’

Naveen Chandra in a still from ‘Inspector Rishi’
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

Actor Naveen Chandra describes his character, Rishi, as a calm and composed officer. “Rishi is someone who doesn’t believe in ghosts. Rishi is focussed on his job and until he cracks the case will not compromise on anything. He’s so calm that even when he’s facing a tense situation, he wouldn’t show that so expressively,” says Naveen.

It does seem from the success of cop titles on streaming that the long format is helping creators dig deeper and explore characters further. On the short format, it surely seems like the mass masala cop has taken a back seat, with audiences liking better the off-beat cops like the ones Naveen played in Ammuor Jigarthanda Double X. Naveen credits the directors for writing such characters that are close to reality. “All these characters wear khaki, but each character has its own unique good and bad traits. For Ammu, somewhere it became like a reference from real life because I have seen people do that. Jigarthanda was complete madness. Inspector Rishi is a very layered, intellectual character and I feel so proud to have gotten the opportunity to play this character,” says Naveen.

Sunaina 

A favourite horror character or movie….

Chandramukhi because it’s scary but a the same time not too scary

Sunaina in a still from ‘Inspector Rishi’

Sunaina in a still from ‘Inspector Rishi’
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

In Inspector Rishi, Sunaina plays a forest guard named Kathy. “Playing a forest guard was quite a new experience because I didn’t know what that job entails,” she says. Having observed the Tamil industry for over 15 years as an actor, and having ventured into OTT even before the pandemic-induced boom (in Nandhini’s Nila Nila Odi Vaa in 2018), Sunaina has seen how the writing of female characters has evolved over the years on the big and small screen. “A change is certainly happening, and I am also seeing more audiences demanding such a change. The audiences are telling the writers and directors that such and such actors deserve better-written characters.”

She adds that though change is happening in films to some degree, OTTs have always been a good place for good character writing. “Credit goes to creators like Nandhini who started writing and making series. They knew that one can’t live life without the women around them.”

Kanna Ravi

A favourite horror character or movie….

Vettaiyan Raja in Chandramukhi

Kanna Ravi in a still from ‘Inspector Rishi’

Kanna Ravi in a still from ‘Inspector Rishi’
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

Kanna Ravi plays a pious sub-inspector named Ayyanar Moorthy, whose journey, he says, is traced through how he helps Rishi crack the case. What fascinates one about Kanna is the script selection and the impressive range he has shown in just a few titles, like Mandela, Rathasaatchi and the recently-released Lover.

Choosing such roles is a conscious decision to avoid typecasting, says Kanna. “I like acting because it breaks the monotony. I want to see myself in different roles with different looks. The problem with typecasting does exist and it is difficult to break the notion in directors that just because you performed one role well doesn’t mean you can’t do other roles well.” If a good script would provide him the opportunity to do something different, he’d go for it just to tell the world he can do many things, he adds. “I am selective with my scripts and I just like to do what that role requires.”

Inspector Rishi also required him to don a different look. “Nandhini ma’am had a storyboard about how Ayyanar looked, and she was particular about the moustache, the rudraksha and the sacred black thread that you see Ayyanar wear on his hands. I was quite hesitant initially but I started liking the look.” Kanna knows that the flipside of this approach is that people might remember his characters better than him, but “I see that as a plus because only now can I explore different scripts and roles and ascertain what my potential is,” he believes.

Elango Kumaravel: 

A favourite horror character or movie….

I don’t prefer horror movies because one has to feel scared while watching them as well as while acting in them. But while growing up, I liked Jaganmohini, because it was very funny, and I also liked Dracula

Elango Kumaravel in a still from ‘Inspector Rishi’

Elango Kumaravel in a still from ‘Inspector Rishi’
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

A forest officer named Irfan, who doesn’t believe in the supernatural but in a scientific approach to the investigation is what actor Elango Kumaravel plays in the series. This, of course, is not the first supporting role as a man in a uniform for the seasoned actor, which makes you wonder if playing a certain kind of role in multiple scenarios, regardless of the subjectivity of the character played, gives an actor a certain insight into that profession. Kumaravel doesn’t think so. “It’s all about doing what we can in that limited space that your character gets. In a well-written script, if you are told ‘your character thinks that way but it is now thinking in a certain way, you figure out the reason for the change,’ then that space will increase and you might have to do something more.” In Inspector Rishi, he had that freedom, he says. “Each character in this series was three-dimensional, and when you write clearly how they, as individuals, approach and react to a situation, you will begin see them as someone else,” he says.

Sri Krishna Dayal:

A favourite horror character or movie….

To date, Exorcist has been the scariest horror film I have seen. More recently, the one that affected the most is Conjuring

Sri Krishna Dayal in a still from ‘Inspector Rishi’

Sri Krishna Dayal in a still from ‘Inspector Rishi’
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

After The Family Man and Modern Love: Chennai, this is the third big production for actor Sri Krishna Dayal, who plays a forest ranger named Sathya in the series. A seasoned theatre professional, Sri Krishna says that a background in drama does help a film actor in certain ways. “Theatre gives you a lot of pluses, like the ability to understand a character, the other actors around you and so on. What you shoot and how you shoot might differ from theatre and cinema, but for an actor, it is beneficial if you can bring your experience, if and what is needed of course, from theatre into cinema,” he says.

Malini Jeevarathinam

A favourite horror character or movie….

When I was a child, I came down with a fever for over three days after watching Mohan’s Uruvam. I am someone who gets scared easily and so I don’t watch a lot of horror

Malini Jeevarathinam in a still from ‘Inspector Rishi’

Malini Jeevarathinam in a still from ‘Inspector Rishi’
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

For those who are familiar with the popular queer artivist and filmmaker, Malini Jeevarathinam, the idea of finding them in front of the camera is definitely a welcome surprise. Playing Chitra Lokesh, a sub-inspector who takes on the supernatural boldly, was a big learning exercise, says Malini. “Nandhini helped me understand Chitra a lot. Whenever I used to look at the khaki, I used to feel a lot of emotions, possibly stemming from my gender as well, and used to desire to play a cop. To get that as a character makes me feel grateful,” says Malini, adding that the experience of putting on 15-odd kilos for the role proved to be a challenging experience. Malini credits the team of Inspector Rishi for giving them a queer-friendly workspace to work in. “I have always been hesitant when it comes to Indian commercial cinema space — that I wouldn’t be understood and that I would be bullied and rejected — but the entire crew maintained dignity and respected one another, which really inspired me a lot to give my all,” they say.



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