OTT Webseries, Which Will Surprise You
This one just blows you away, no two ways about it. After suffering the load of crap that’s being offloaded on the digital platform to make hay while the sun strangles, Paatal Lok comes as a jolting reminder of what levels of brilliant storytelling can be achieved on the OTT platform by those who know how to use the extended space afforded by the medium.Not a single moment is wasted in the 9 episodes of taut and coiled storytelling. This is a series that requires our complete and unconditional attention as Sudeep Sharma’s devious screenplay slithers from one level of dramatic tension to another without an iota of selfcongratulation.It all starts with an assassination attempt on a high-profile television journalist Sanjeev Mehra with a ‘chick’ on his shoulder.
I refer to the fling that he has with a sharp junior correspondent Sarah Matthews(Niharika Lyra Dutta). A fling that flings the superstar anchor into an unanchored voyage into the land of the damned.Sanjeev’s wife is that clueless biwi in a bubble who believes bad vives can be shut out of her home by shutting out the news on television and who treats her digs as her children. Swastika Mukherjee plays this wife as the only innocent character in the plot.The unfailing Neeraj Kabi plays Sanjeev Mehra with a heady mix of unbridled arrogance and calm causticity.
But the real hero of this drama of the damned is Jaideep Ahlawat ,a washed-out Delhi cop named Hathiram Chaudhary with a nagging wife(Gul Panag) and a problematic adolescent son(whose waywardness is part of the film’s unanchored landscape). Out of the blue Hathiram is assigned a high-profile case for no seeming reason.Ahlawat sinks into the boorish but fiercely dedicated cop’s role, taking the character kicking and dragging through a gauntlet of deception and betrayal.
At one point he is left starting at the breasts of a young woman who offers herself in return of clemency in a hotel room. The choice that Hathiram makes here defines his character and his attitude to the cancerous corruption all around him.Equally lucid is Hathiram’s associate a young idealistic Muslim named Ansari who is constantly reminded of what “his” community is responsible for. Ishwak Singh who plays Ansari is the kind of actor who can let you know what a character is stinking while standing still in a frame. This is a remarkably articulate performance likely to be drowned in the din of attention-seekers.Paatal Lok doesn’t spare us any of the details that come in the territory of political corruption. Episode 3 is specially unbearable brutal and gruesome.
It opens with a closeup of a school-ghanti’s gong. In a few minutes the gong is used by the film’s vicious unsparing villain Hathoda Tyagi(Abhishek Banneree) to bludgeon three young boys to their bloodied death. Soon thereafter a man from the upper caste in the Chitrakoot town in MP, leans politely over a middleaged lady to say, “My son promised your son that his father will fuck his mother. So here I am. And it’s not just me but also my ten associates.”Don’t flinch. Life never promised us a rose garden.And Paatal Lok is not afraid to create a stink.
This is a series that can take potshots at its dramatic interjections and narrative exclamations. At one point the star-journalist Mehra observes caustically, “If you want to make news just throw in a minority issue and an LGPTQ reference.”Paatal Lok has both. It uses these topical tropes with such unstrained dramatic intensity that we feel we are being subjected to whatever is the reverse of artistic manipulation. Many times during the gripping narrative I found myself praying for things to go the right way. But it’s always the other way. Death in this series is always sudden violent and irrelevant. Just like life.
There is an awkward moment between the classy Lilette Dubey and her young unlikely Covid companion when the former….there’s no polite way of putting this…farts.Both the women laugh off the moment in a way that can only happen when there is deep comfort level between two people. This moment in Unpaused, a resplendent anthology of five Covid –related film,emblematizes the absolutely unforeseen equations and bondings that the pandemic had perpetrated.
Straightaway, I must say the anthology comes as a welcome surprise. When I heard of a Covid anthology I thought it would one of those let’s-make-hay-while-the-sun-shines kind of obscenely exploitative ventures. Thankfully, the films are born out of compassion rather than greed.
The Covid theme flows organically out of the stories , and the characters are never allowed to feel sorry for themselves. These are bright stories burnished with a directorial acumen that elevates the theme from a topical statement to an enduring experience.In the story Rat-a-Tat(inaptly clever title just because it’s got a rat in it) one of my favourite segments of the omnibus, a 65-year old uperclass woman(Lilette Dubey) finds herself getting close to a young feisty Maharashtrian girl who moves in from nextdoor when a rat infests her apartment.
A potentially manipulative formula film(two women from diverse generations and culture locked up together in one home) grows into a gentle,warm,engaging study of the human condition when pushed to the wall. In case you had forgotten how accomplished Lilette is as an actor here she is, in full command over a story that needed the two women to feel like a makeshift family. The surprise is Rinku Rajguru, the Sairat girl whose eyes dance as though they know the secret of staying happy during a crisis. Tannishtha Chatterjee directs the two women with that nurturing care that comes naturally to a woman director.Another gem in the anthology is also directed by a woman. Nitya Mehra’s Chand Mubarak about an unlikely bonding between a lonely aging woman and an autorickshaw driver is again buoyed and navigated effortlessly through a tricky maze of overt sentimentality, by the two actors in central roles.
Ratna Pathak Shah is superb as a lonely cantankerous autumnal woman trapped under an emotional lockdown. Newcomer Shardul Bhardwaj as the autorickshaw driver is a discovery. Actors and not stars guide these stories to their apt destinies.The best segment of the anthology is cinematographer-director Avinash Arun Dhaware’s Vishaanu, a deeply moving though stubbornly unsentimental story of a Rajasthani migrant wage-earning couple and their son waiting after the lockdown to be taken home, making a highrise duplex abandoned by its owners their temporary home, as the man makes anxious inquiries on how to transport himself and family to their village.
He obviously hasn’t met Sonu Sood. So he must negotiate with sleazy ambulance drivers using their vehicles to make money out of miserable migrants.Through it all, there are the skilled actors Abhishek Bannerjee and Geetika Vidya Ohlyan suffering and dancing their way into viral fame from a posh place to stay and a city that doesn’t belong to them. Geetika in a sequence where she makes all the right noises about Mumbai in exchange of food and masks,is a class act,as too when her face crumbles on realizing that the temporary luxury abode must come to an end.Director-cinematographer Avinash Arun (remember his brilliant Marathi film Killa?) shoots the deserted streets of Mumbai and the uneasily lit makeshift home of the couple in colours of poetic resonance.This segment is a certifiable masterpiece.
The Apartment with Richa Chadha effectively playing a career woman betrayed by her husband, who decides to kill herself and is saved by a kindly charming neighbour(Ishwak Singh) suffers from a crammed plot. Too much is being said here, in too little time. While the Covid theme hovers uneasily around the characters, director Nikkhil Advani focuses on bringing in the MeToo movement with Chadha’s husband(Sumeet Vyas, in an embarrassingly sketchy role as a sexual harasser) getting over-familiar with all his female staffers. Couldn’t this just have been the story of a depressed suicidal woman and her neighbour?Isn’t that depressing enough?Raj and Dak’s Glitch is the quirkiest segment .Its bright blotchy colours and unpredictable narrative pattern suggest the hands of directors who want to have fun with this futuristic story of Covid bringing together a hypochondriac(Gushan Devaiah) and Covid warrior(Sayami Kher). After meeting in a virtual bar named ‘Men Are From Bars’(ha ha) the duo delves devilishly into their crazy lines and zany situations.
It’s all very new and also somewhere deep down an anxious attempt to make light of a grim situation.Unpause is empowered by a fierce flavor of optimism amidst the current Coronova crisis. It’s a remarkable anthology filled with hope courage and sunshine.Makes us grateful that at least some good has come out of the terrible crisis.
It isn’t easy being on the right side of the law when all you get for your efforts is brickbats and insults from fencesitters. To say that this disturbing but finally redundant real-life crime drama whitewashes the khaki uniform would be frivolous and irresponsible to the extreme. What it does do is to humanize the police force by showing a cluster of fiercely committed police persons(the two main Khaki persona in the story are women) driving themselves over the edge to nap the perpetrators of the crime.
Did the cops on the case really show this level of commitment? Does it matter? Heroism on a level where it heals society is unquestionable.Recreating in vivid vicious colours the events before during and after the life-changing ‘Nirbhaya’ gangrape in Delhi, this 7-part series spares us the brutality of watching the rape but protects from none of the trauma and horrific aftermath of a crime that shook the conscience of the nation.As we hear our drama’s hero Vartika Chaturvedi say, this crime was different, the savagery was unprecedented.She got it right.
I will never forget the sequence where the ravaged girl is rolled into the hospital bloodied brutalized beyond all human explanation, in pain beyond all endurance she tells her father, “I will be fine.”We do that all the time. We keep saying things will be fine when we know they will only get worse.Director Richie Mehta negotiates with powerful hands the many hurdles that a crime investigation so complex must face.
This is a very professionally handled crime drama, superior to some of the real-life crime dramas on television ( some of which are not bad at all) mainly for the level of performance director Mehta gets out of the cast specially Shefali Shah. But it doesn’t achieve that level of emotional impact that I expected from the product considering the fine talent that’s gone into it.
There are two reasons why Delhi Crime stops short of being a masterpiece on real-life crime. For one it holds back way too much of the angst probably to appeal to a global audience. The attempt to subdue the sheer insanity of the crime is admirable but eventually a fatal error of judgment.
A more immediate crisis of efficacy emerges from the fact that Delhi Crime resembles a very recent Netflix film Soni which was in every way a superior work. The domestic disarray in the life of the female cops and the professional dynamics between two female officers in Soni is echoed here in the rapport that grows between the two cops played by Shefali Shah and Rasika Dugal, both in fine form imbuing the contours of crime with an implosive reined-in anger at a system that fosters inequality and brutality.Shefali Shah is specially powerful.
She is compelling because her anger internalized, palpable. She not only anchors the series with her persuasive presence, she also diminishes and decimates the rather disturbing feeling we get that this sort of stark recreation of India’s most well-known sex crime serves no purpose except to remind us that the change we hoped to see in the number of rapes in our country never happened.Nirbhaya lives, and dies, again. Long live Nirbhaya.