On the face of it, Dahaad (meaning roar) is a solid police procedural. There’s a serial killer, there’s an investigation, and there’s a cat-and-mouse chase. It’s an addictive watch for its form alone. This is no whodunit. There is no big twist. The identity of the culprit is no secret.
But the body of Dahaad is just a clever front for its sociocultural roar. The devil is in the details. The setting is the small town of Mandawa in Rajasthan. The first episode features the chaos of a more contemporary India. A Thakur girl has eloped with her Muslim lover, and the ruling party turns it into a political spectacle.
The defining image of this episode arrives when a lower-caste villager – whose missing sister is reduced to a forgotten file – joins the right-wing mob after being ignored at the police station. In an act of desperation, he wades through the crowd of flag-waving extremists and starts to chant with them. It’s like watching the origin story of a bigot in real time
Like someone who has read the news, studied his setting, stayed abreast with its politics, and perfected his pattern over time. Varma’s Irrfan-style calm and Nawazuddin-like edge combine to extend his Darlings character into the realms of cold-blooded obsession.
A lot of the show’s messages are explicitly spelt out by characters during verbal exchanges; Anjali, in particular, has this penchant for speaking in subtext. Sonakshi Sinha is well-cast as an imposing figure who overcooks her hostility to earn the respect (“Bhaati saab”) of her male colleagues.
Yet, in the larger scheme of things, these are minor quibbles. For a fictional story, Dahaad manages to summon the many strengths of fact-based shows like Delhi Crime. An example is how the case shapes the interpersonal relationships of those involved. Anjali and Devi share a mentor-protege bond, united by the smallness of the minds around them.