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Pushpavalli: Like, follow

Stalking isn't funny but Amazon comedy Pushpavalli is

Sumukhi Suresh and (right) Shraddha in ’Pushpavalli’.
Sumukhi Suresh and (right) Shraddha in ’Pushpavalli’.

Ican’t say for certain that Pushpavalli is better than most Indian streaming shows, but it’s one of the few I’ve seen from start to end, and the only one I’ve binge-watched in a single sitting. Created by, and starring, comic Sumukhi Suresh, Pushpavalli is not only hilarious and maladjusted but also surprisingly twisted and willing to turn on its own lead character.

Through a series of flashbacks, we see Pushpavalli (Suresh) getting to know painfully nice Nikhil (Manish Anand) at a food trader expo in Bhopal. They hit it off, and Pushpavalli decides there’s a spark between them. The kindling lives in Bengaluru, so Pushpavalli moves cities, starts working at a children’s library and living in a paying guest accommodation owned by Kannada-accented Vasu (Shraddha, sublime). She steals data to bribe a tea-seller. She follows Nikhil to an ashram. And then things get really weird.

In an era when Bollywood still terms such behaviour “courtship", Pushpavalli not only makes its stalker female but turns her into an almost unsympathetic figure by the end (the irony is there for all those who want to see it: a male predator in the series exposes himself in public, while Pushpavalli’s worst crime is invasion of space). The writing has a lived-in quality that grounds the crazier comic flights. Pushpavalli’s mother fake-cries over the phone; a couple of episodes later, so does her daughter. When one of Pushpavalli’s flatmates, Pearl (Niharika Dutt), flips out over her partner’s unwillingness to put a label on their relationship, it’s riotously over-the-top, but also a familiar scene to anyone who’s lived in a hostel and seen such spontaneous crack-ups.

Debbie Rao directs the eight episodes (each roughly 20 minutes) unobtrusively, allowing major and minor characters to shine. As library owner Pankaj, Naveen Richard spends the first few episodes in a cartoonish rage before revealing the hurt that lies beneath. Swati (Preetika Chawla) starts off as a ditzy caricature, but is later shown to be calm and generous. Suresh herself is marvellous, her self-deluding enthusiasm tipping over into unlikeability (she has a long one-take speech that has some of the most lacerating acting of last year). And please, if the series doesn’t return for a second season, give Vasu her own spin-off.

Pushpavalli is streaming on Amazon Prime.

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