15th May 2020

Paatal Lok Is Gripping From First To Last

Neeraj Kabi: 'Paatal Lok' is a ride of immorality, self-discovery.

Pataal Lok (9 Episodes, Amazon Prime Video)

Starring:  Neeraj Kabi as Sanjeev Mehra,Jaideep Ahlawat as Hathiram Chaudhary,Abhishek Banerjee as Hathoda Tyagi,Swastika Mukherjee as Dolly Mehra,Ishwak Singh as Imran Ansari

Directed  by Prosit Roy & Avinsh Arun  Dhaware

Rating: ****(4 stars)

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.

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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.

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Equally  lucid is  Harthiram’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.”

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  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.

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