Auto Shankar Synopsis
The story of Auto Shankar, one of Chennai’s most notorious mass murderers, is interesting, but also a little bit of a wannabe.
Auto Shankar Season 1 Review
When it comes to the Tamil online series, Auto Shankar is a cut above the rest – at least in terms of filming. The focus is definitely on the aesthetics, as the cinematography and art direction departments painstakingly recreate late-80s Madras.
Auto Shankar Season 1 Trailer
The story follows the rise and fall of Auto Shankar, a gangster-pimp who became a formidable force to be reckoned with because of his contacts with people in power. The show begins with Auto Shankar doing time and awaiting execution by gallows, and then tells us how he became the criminal that he was.
Shankar begins as a bootlegger selling illegal liquor and climbs through the ranks after taking over a brother’s business. His “ponnunga” leads to greater and more powerful ties, particularly with Chandrika (Swayam Siddha), his moll who captures the eye of a minister. But as his power grows, so does his hubris. He comes to believe he is invincible and ends up antagonizing the exact individuals that propelled him to prominence. And once he becomes a killer, it’s just a matter of time until his history catches up with him.
Where Auto Shankar falls short is in its writing. Except for the lead character, the other characters are not well developed, and many (such as Shankar’s accomplices) appear to be strictly functional. Some significant characters, such as the officer who first assists Shankar with contacts and then has a falling out with him, do not have a well-defined development. And, rather than portraying Shankar as a multifaceted character, the narrative confines the criminal to an all-too-familiar template: a man with a not-so-nice history turning to crime as a way of survival, quickly rising to the top, becoming too confident, and falling as quickly as he rose.
Of course, any story must let the viewer sympathize with its protagonist, but rather than presenting this story as a cautionary tale, the series appears to be a bit too in love with its lead character. And, in the name of humanizing a notorious serial killer, it ends up swaying more to the other side by glorifying his actions — whether it’s the violence (the background score becomes celebratory) or the sex (an episode with an actress is pure indulgence), the series presents them with voyeuristic glee. Given that there is no censor board to contend with, the filmmakers become too indulgent with both, eager to show off both of these features. This makes the series feel a little cheesy at times.
Look, we can also force actors to remove their garments! We, too, can create blood-splattered images! As in Sacred Games!
And, at the end, when Shankar’s history catches up with him, we get visual signals (Christian images, a lengthy view of his corpse writhing after he is hanged) that are meant to make us sympathize with him.
The good news is that these flaws do not detract from the series’ overall appeal. We don’t lose interest since the tempo is exactly right. We are also drawn in by the staging. And the discussions, which are full of colorful slang, add realism. Then there’s the casting, which feels just right. Appani Sarath is terrific as the title character, and the supporting cast makes an impression despite their roles not being fully fleshed out.