Web Series Producers – Clean Slate Films
» Anushka Sharma
» Karnesh Sharma
» Sudip Sharma
Web Series Directors
» Avinash Arun
» Prosit Roy
» Sudip Sharma
Amazon Prime gets into the big fray and this time they club it bigger, higher and mightier. It lands where it intends to, as you can hear the sound of something getting hit through the sweetest of spot. As far the story and script goes there is nothing saccharine about it, though in the end it leaves a great taste to remember and savor. It goes from strength to strength. It purposefully lets you insatiate so that you have no choice but to ask for more -may be a second helping (Season 2).
It’s a dark netherworld with nefarious characters typical of NCR. The story begins with arrest of four suspects out to get to a morally ambivalent top ranked prime-time TV journalist, Sanjeev Mehra (Neeraj Kabi). DCP Bhagat Singh (Vipin Sharma) plays more than an active role in unearthing the plot and takes it a notch above by apprehending them in broad daylight. The case gets handed over to an apology of a police-station and is given to a cop, Hathiram Choudhary (Jaideep Ahlawat) whose history in achieving any breakthroughs is nothing to write home about.
But the loser in Choudhary sees a lot of potential in the case: first being it’s a high profile busted plot of a hypothetical assassination of a media darling and second he has a point or two to prove to people around him – beginning with his son and wife ending with his out-of-turn promoted underling to whom he ignominiously reports. He is assisted by a young, suave, and smart police officer, Imran Ansari (Ishwak Singh) who aspires to be an IAS and is giving it all to have a crack at it.
The meta plots unravels the underbelly of the society: the four alleged conspirators have their own story to tell. Each one of it is mired in varied shades from gruesome to grotesque. They are treated as scums and the arc never changes right from birth to four walls of prison. There is utter disdain for these lowly creatures and that’s a quintessential Paatal Lok for you ‘the netherworld’ of grime and gruel.
The ‘Swarglok’ is the cream which floats at the top and is integral part represented through the swish set of the society: they live in opulent houses; pop champagnes; moves in Audis and BMWs; wheels and deals; and rake in all the big moolah. This bunch of movers and shakers sneers the middle rung and has nothing but contempt for the lower strata – the denizens of netherworld. In the series, Swarglok is replete with – petty politicians, pliant police, malignant media moguls, crony capitalists and blatantly blasé builders.
Paatal Lok is a crime thriller with its hot head on shoulder and a bleeding heart in its soul. It’s a noir-crime drama with its own crooked twists and charismatic turns. The media star is an ambiguous soul with no compunction and is always on a lookout for breakthroughs whether this happens in professional or personal life; it’s just another show-time for him. And when he is speeding up on his ego trip, which he embarks on every now and then, he unabashedly refers to himself in third person.
Mehra’s wife Dolly (Swastika Mukherjee ) – disturbed, caring, loving and subdued – undergoes anxiety attacks and she finds solace more in the company of canines than in her canny husband, which is a blessing in disguise as it pans out. She is aware of the shenanigans of her husband with his junior, but ignores it in bargain to have Savitri (a stray dog) by her side. The junior in the fray is Sara Mathews (Niharika Lyra Dutt – strutting with confidence and living it as it is), an intrepid new age media personnel with a confused conscience. She gives in easily to machinations of her boss but before it’s too late realizes her folly and make amends both personally (by walking out on Mehra) and professionally (by walking-the-talk and finding her journalistic moral compass).
Hathiram’s history is of a loser and that’s how everyone, including himself, sees it. He is aware that -this case was handed over to him because of his track record (lack of it) – it can be a game changer and he throws everything at it, including the kitchen sink. His son, Siddharth (Bodhisattva Sharma) is rebellious and his wife, Renu (Gul Panag) is industrious and dotes on her kid. In one scene when bluntly asked ‘why you love him (the son) so much?’ she counters ‘one of us has to’. It’s not a great family space to be in. The son goes to a school with high and mighty that makes him feel low and puny. He embarrasses himself and his family on umpteen occasions. This continues till his father loses it one day and depicts his muscle and mettle with small time goons and low brow gangsters to save his son’s skin and his own spirit.
Out of four suspects, the spotlight is trained more on Hathoda Tyagi (Abhijit Banerjee – playing a staid focused maniac with utmost conviction and proving that one do not have to shout out ones lungs to depict a deranged psychopath), a dog-loving serial murderer. He gets his name by his murder weapon – a hammer. He is prone to unruly rage against humans and at the same time unconditional love for dogs. He is a fanatic if there existed one. He is so fond of his ‘Masterji’ that one day when asked he just makes mincemeat of his own thumb, a modern merciless Eklavyaa in making.
The other three suspects have their own sad tales, which one is more poignant is a matter of debate. All are wronged by the system which extorts andexploitsin more ways than one. In one scene, father of one of them quips – ‘Saheb, jisko maine musalmaan nahin banne diya, use aapne jihadi banadiya.’ The manipulations begin right from their childhood and continue to amp-up through their arrest, torture, interrogation, frame-ups and last but not the least when they find out, to their utter dismay and surprise, that they were part of an International Conspiracy plotted with ISI. From being ‘new’ to crime they morph into crime ‘news’. There is a Dalit with a sordid past, there is an uncircumcised Muslim with a forgetful communal lesson and then there is a man’s soul trapped in woman’s structure. All again are integral part of netherworld.
The story moves in and out of Delhi and takes us to putrid villages of Punjab, the hinterlands of UP and many other dark netherworlds. The drama unfolds like a taut thriller and maintains its energy and inertia simply through its script and storyline. Nothing gets overlooked – the camerawork is marvelous and it’s non-intrusive to say the least. Kudos to the producer, writer, director and all the actors for creating this in-your-face crime drama with a socio-political hue.
Jaideep Ahlawat breathes life into Hathiram, his interpretation of the character will be remembered for a long time to come. Hathiram is fallible, vulnerable and is given to self-doubts and he portrays each and every emotion with conviction. And once he sniffs the scope and expanse of the botched up case, he comes into his own and in collaboration with Sara, Ansari, local journalist, and some unexpected saviors he pursues it with deadly doggedness and sprightful spirit. He has a thing to prove to the world and he proves it to the series characters around him and he hits right buttons with the series watchers as well. He may stumble in his duty but he performs his role without a single hitch or stumble. May be this lead will catapult him to an artistic league of Irrfan Khan, PankajTripathi, Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Hathiram definitely hits the nail on the head (and unlike HathodaTyagi, he does it with his acting chops).
Neeraj Kabi (Mehra) as primetime star brings in gravitas and holds on to his own with flair. He balances his aggression with soft undertones and keeps it at surface without going overboard. He never misses the pulse of his character and fleshes it with loads of chutzpah. Ishwak Singh (Ansari) portrays the confusion if being a minority in majority very well, he has an angst but is all forgiving. He keeps hearing the subtle remarks, quips, jibes and loaded comment from almost every strata of the society. He comes out at top of his game throughout, its sheer belief in his own abilities as well as his trust in a deeper system that keeps him going. He is few of the calming influence in the dastardly narrative, and he never falters.
In one of the early episodes, DCP Bhagat tells Hathiram about the innards of the system which looks rotten from outside but actually works like a supremely well-oiled machine and any part or component, which does not fit-in gets replaced and is thrown in junkyard of scrap. Paatal Lok is a bold narrative which is fearless and fearsome at the same time, it musters upenough guts to call spade a bloody shovel. It does not merely scratch the surface; it digs deep and tears in the wounds deep and dirty. It uses sledgehammer with surgeon’s scalpel and its broad as well as its nuanced. It paints picture with thick brush strokes but fills them in with utmost care. It’s a brave take on our systemic rotten social, economic and political system. It exposes the rut but do not hesitate to put it across with a tight slap on our collective conscience.
Just one aspect which needs a special mention is that – the whole narrative is based on Tarun Tejpal’s novel ‘The Story of My Assassins’. And I just wonder, just because he was in jail and now is out on bail for an alleged heinous act – his name has been taken off the credits. Is it the case? That begs the ethical question – Is it right thing to do? It will be downright paradoxical to relate then with the human angles of the all the criminals incarcerated, rightly or wrongly – dealt in Paatal Lok. Are the producers (Clean Slate Production) and the team not representing the same swish sets which they keep berating in the web series? What the author Tejpal got to do with the Tarun who is in the dock? So in the end, the conclusion is that the makers of Paatal Lok acted as any other member of the Swarglok they kept berating. Sad but true.
But all in all, a stupendous effort from Team PaatalLok, a ‘must watch’ on every ones list.
Stars: 4 on 5
Dr Jitendra Sharma is an engineer with PhD in Mechanical Engg. He is Professor of Operations and Supply Chain at IMT, Nagpur. He has worked in industry for 5 years and 25 years in academics.