‘Inspector Rishi’ review: A superbly crafted battle between fact and fable

Why didn’t they ask Irfan?

The forest officer has been working in the Thenkadu forest for three decades, while his boss Sathya has been here for just four years. A number of deaths in which victims are wrapped in cocoons and strung from trees is exactly the kind of occultish, nature-gone-mad occurrence that Irfan is well-placed to explain. He has the experience, the community contacts and most importantly, the memory of what had taken place in Thenkadu decades ago.

Although remembrance of things past is an important element in Inspector Rishi, Irfan (Kumaravel) isn’t one of the key players. Instead, Nandhini JS’s supernatural-themed Tamil series for Prime Video is led by Rishi (Naveen Chandra).

A diligent, rational-minded police officer, Rishi rejects rumours that the culprit is a malevolent horned forest sprit named Vanaratchi. Rishi and local cops Ayyanar (Kanna Ravi) and Chitra (Malini Jeevarathnam) team up with forest ranger Sathya (Srikrishna Dayal) and forest guard Kathryn (Sunainaa) to separate fact from fable.

Malini Jeevarathnam, Kanna Ravi amd Naveen Chandra in Inspector Rishi (2024). Courtesy Make Believe Productions/Prime Video.

Meanwhile, more mummified bodies turn up, raising tensions in an ecologically sensitive region. Rishi battles a thicket of leads, a troubled past and the effects of having only one eye. Rishi has limited depth of perception, but Nandhini’s show has it in spades.

Nandhini’s screenplay unfolds like a slow-burner, carefully laying out the groundwork for Rishi’s investigation and then plunging us into a competing narrative between superstition and hard logic. Despite a few loopholes, the series is riveting throughout.

Like Gayatri-Pushkar’s Suzhal – The Vortex (Prime Video), Inspector Rishi is set at the intersection of folk beliefs and modern policing. Several characters are plagued by terrifying visions, which convince them that Vanaratachi is on the rampage, even as human villains do their work. The forest has something to say to everybody, for those who care to listen.

Kumaravel and Srikrishna Dayal in Inspector Rishi (2024). Courtesy Make Believe Productions/Prime Video.

Thoughtfully written, beautifully staged and competently performed, Inspector Rishi is the rare show that stretches on for 10 episodes but doesn’t always test the patience. Local flavour is supplied by on-location shooting and a minor army of impressive secondary actors.

The layering of key characters includes absorbing sub-plots revolving around Ayyanar’s bad marriage and Chitra’s complicated love life. Chitra, movingly played by Malini Jeevarathnam, fulfils the show’s central thesis of being open to diverse impulses and belief systems.

Nandhini dexterously weaves together disparate ideas into a tapestry that is visually striking, frightening at times, and empathetic in its understanding of justice. Crooked characters get what is coming to them, going to their end to the echoes of Vanaratchi’s shrieks. Maybe they too should have met Irfan sooner?

Inspector Rishi (2024).

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