Synopsis – A down and out cop lands the case of a lifetime when four suspects are nabbed in the assassination attempt of a journalist. The pursuit of it leads him to ‘Paatal Lok’, and to shocking discoveries in the past of the four suspects.
Episodes – S01E01 to S01E09
My Take – I am not sure what the general consensus is, but I absolutely believe, that when it comes to Indian content, Amazon Prime Video has been killing it! With series such Inside Edge, The Family Man, Mirzapur, Made in Heaven, Breathe, Laakhon Mein Ek and Four More Shots Please! finding massive success by catering to their targeted audience, the streaming giant just seems to be just upping their game with each new entry into their growing library.
A point well proven with their latest release, a series backed by actor Anushka Sharma, which has already gained acclaim as Amazon‘s answer to Netflix’s Sacred Games since its arrival on May 15. As writer-creator Sudip Sharma with directors Avinash Arun and Prosit Roy, over the course of nine episodes, perform a cutting-edge job of blending neo-noir suspense and fascinating mythological allegory, while offering a unapologetically stark commentary on casteism, Islamophobia, fake news, and left wing hypocrisy.
While the thought of unpacking so much may feel nauseating, but the first episode itself manages to leave such a sheer impression, that you are already convinced to go deeper into the ride. It’s engrossing, in a deeper sense, meaning that one feels compelled to move to the next episode, not because it contains a variety of set pieces or has criminals being constantly chased through the city, but because you are invested in the characters, their marred histories, broken ambitions, and endless dilemmas.
Though the frequent gore and the disturbing visuals of skulls smashed to pulp, child abuse, transgender abuse, and rape, might not make this as easy watch, but I assure you this journey into the underworld/netherworld is simply worth it.
The story follows Hathi Ram Chaudhary (Jaideep Ahlawat), a down and out cop stationed at Outer Jamna Paar, who has given up on his dream of being a success story. Way past his prime, he now reports to an officer who was once his junior, and is unable to keep up with the laws of the world, instead is more happy to see his much younger colleague Imran Ansari (Ishwak Singh) achieve what he couldn’t.
However, life takes an unexpected turn when DCP Bhagat (Vipin Sharma) assigns him to handle the investigation of his team’s latest arrest. The four criminals namely, Vishal Tyagi (Abhishek Banerjee), Tope Singh (Jagjeet Sandhu), Kabir M. (Aasif Khan), and Cheeni (Mairembam Ronaldo Singh), were apparently nabbed by the Delhi Police, when they were on their way to carry out an assassination of Sanjeev Mehra (Neeraj Kabi), a prominent TV journalist who has carried out many exposes and made a few enemies in the process.
With the accused having a proven criminal history, it seems like an open-and-shut case. But it is soon discovered that Tyagi is in fact Hathoda Tyagi, a notorious hit man and one of the most-wanted men in the state of Uttar Pradesh, with 45 murders to his name. Convinced that the arrested criminal’s motives may not be as clear as it seems, Chaudhary and Ansari find themselves getting entangled in a bunch of cobwebs as they race to find the real masterminds.
Here, nothing is as it seems, thanks to the layered and complex narrative. As the title clarifies, the series draws inspiration from the concepts of the heaven, earth and hell. Put simply, it brings together the good, the bad, and the ugly of humankind and our society. But as mysteries unfurl, it strikes you with the realization that perhaps nobody and nothing is sacred to the fullest or corrupted to the core.
The series takes its time to draw you into the darkness that defines its essence. Over the first two episodes, we are essentially introduced to characters and the locales where they exist, even as slow-burn after-impact quietly builds. Then, soon enough you’re drawn into the hellish underbelly of heartland India where law and the lawless cohabit to form a peculiar societal entirety.
Despite a sense of ‘been there, seen that’ at the onset, the series turns out to be a gripping investigative thriller, with a plot that focuses on the procedure of chasing clues and putting pieces together. The show weaves a story around relevant contemporary issues, taking a more critical view than the former, especially by touching upon topics like freedom of press, caste-based prejudices and sexual assault. Just when you think you have pretty much guessed where the story is going, the show turns around in your face, by offering a scathing commentary on the state of affairs in our far-from-perfect society.
By way of diving into the histories of the four accused, the show touches upon harrowing issues of child abuse, poverty, domestic violence, and lynching. Of course, it isn’t a pleasant sight. It isn’t supposed to be. But it’s real and true. The series doesn’t shy away from pointing its finger in the direction of patriarchy.
Almost every male character here has endured oppression in one form or the other, be it via dialogues heavy on cuss words, or the horrifying visual where a man rapes a young man’s mother, because he attacked his son despite coming from a certain cast, or when three young adults casually offer their father to rape their cousins, in order to settle issues over land ownership.
Hathiram was raised by a single father who would beat him without any mercy, Imraan is reminded of his religious identity by his majoritarian colleagues almost every step of his journey. Even while being congratulated for clearing his UPSC exams a character remarks how a lot of people from “his” community are doing well these days. Then there’s Hathiram’s son Siddarth (Bodhisattva Sharma) who is being bullied at school because he classmates feel that he does not belong there, and thus develops a fascination towards guns, a sign of dominance and masculinity among men in Northern India.
Even, Mehra who is a staunch leftist and a vocal critic of the government. However, to save his career, he is willing to compromise on his beliefs and adopt a new ideology, suggesting that in the struggle to survive, no one, not even the good guy, is spotless.
Hence proving, while journalists are meant to be watchdogs, they’re not above spreading propaganda and fake news to further their own ends.
Although the show isn’t without its flaws, yet amid the brutal tension, there exist the tender moments, served exactly in proportions that they don’t distract from the essential text. Hathiram’s relationship with his strong headed by supportive wife Renu (Gul Panag), is brilliantly executed. A similar impact resonates in the depiction of Sanjeev Mehra the man beyond the celebrity, evident in the formality of a relationship he maintains with Dolly (Swastika Mukherjee), his lonely, emotionally-broken wife.
The performances are also quite unforgettable here. Jaideep Ahlawat carries the show on his shoulders. He soaks the character’s dilemmas and desperation and brings them out in his expressions and speech. Neeraj Kabi, despite missing depth to his character, manages to be flawless. Ishwar Singh gives an honest depiction of a Muslim cop dealing with his identity trying to prove his loyalty. Niharika Lyra Dutt does justice to the character of young journalist Sara Mathews. Swastika Mukherjee deserves a special mention as Mehra’s anxiety-ridden wife. Abhishek Banerjee doesn’t converse much, but has an eerie and daunting presence. He is easily the most fascinating character in the entire story, and perhaps deserved more screen time.
Jagjeet Sandhu gives goosebumps with his artistic finesse. Gul Panag and Bodhisattva Sharma as Siddharth put a soulful enactment of their respective roles. Among the supporting cast Vipin Sharma, Akash Khurana, Rajesh Sharma, Aasif Khan, Yashodhan Arora, Garima Rawat, Mairembam Ronaldo Singh, Asif Basra, Jogi Mallang, Ankur Vikal, Kana Commando, Anindita Bose, Rajesh Jais, Indresh Malik, Amit Raj, Loveleen Mishra, Anup Jalota, and Manish Choudhary have essayed their roles with utmost perfection. On the whole, ‘Paatal Lok’ is an engrossing and pertinent crime drama that weaves contemporary issues intelligently to keep you gripped.
Creators – Sudip Sharma
Status – Season 1 (Completed)
Network – Amazon Prime Video