Think Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein and you can't help but picture Shah Rukh Khan, tucking in a loose red shirt, grooving with Kajol, wearing a pink, shimmery ensemble, in the dark, twisted world of Baazigar. Netflix's upcoming show with the title of the same name, carries a similar aura – it's pulpy, dark and assembles a unit of layered characters exploring the many shades of love, passion and obsession. Starring Tahir Raj Bhasin, Shweta Tripathi and Anchal Singh in the lead, the eight-episode series is a love triangle set in central India, with the characters facing the repercussions of immense love colliding with extreme desire.
Ahead of the show's premiere on January 14th, the cast – who currently can't stop humming the title track – discusses what attracted them to their characters, the unique gender dynamics involved and their personal interpretations of the title.
Shweta Tripathi (ST): What I love about Shikha is that she loves love. She loves to be loved and believes in the purity of it. It's very sacred for her. She isn't exactly in a need to be in a relationship. She can live without Vikrant (Tahir) but doesn't want to. They are separate units but when their forces meet, it's the kind of love that you would want. It's very easy to give up on people when you are in the kind of situation these two find themselves in, but they don't – because they understand.
Anchal Singh (AS): Whatever happens in Purva's world is centered around her love and passion for Vikrant. The complexities you see in her, the layers that you witness in her, are all tied to Vikrant because she's madly in love with him. She has everything that she can ever desire. She has the ability to touch something and make it her own, whether it is out of her own personality or her father's [a powerful politician] backing. But there's only one thing that she hasn't been able to attain: the love of her life. That desire is her driving force, so for her, everything is fair in love and war.
Tahir Raj Bhasin (TRB): Vikrant, my character, experiences two ends of the spectrum of love. One, who he is passionately in love with, up until the point where he would want to fight until death to protect it. And the other, where a person is so passionately in love with him that she stifles him with her love. It's a whirlwind that an ordinary man goes through in some extraordinary circumstances. What really drew me to the part was how he had to shift through the episodes from being passive to becoming active.
TRB: The credit goes to director Sidharth Sengupta because we never had to force the dialogues. The words were written in that way in the script. We weren't trying to force an accent. Instead of saying, 'Mai tumhe chahta hoon,' it had to be 'Hum tumhe chahte hai' without trying to make a caricature of anything. On a personal level, my father used to be with the Indian Airforce and I have grown up in smaller cities, which helped me understand the flavour of the characters.
ST: An actor's job is to get the dialect right. It's a given. If we don't do that well, we aren't doing our homework.
TRB: No audience likes to be talked down to. We have a stereotype of what a 'small town' is, but the beauty of social media is that it makes you realize that there really isn't much different. When you go to an Indore, Lucknow or Bhopal and see the way they dress, what they watch, the kind of food they eat, the cafes they visit, you notice that there's very little difference left. Culturally, what's distinct is that every place has its history, architecture and interpersonal relationships. The challenge is to not become a caricature and tell a story that is a microcosm of small-town India.
TRB: What fascinated me about it is that it inverses how we are usually used to seeing gender dynamics, whether it is looking at love and lust through the female gaze or seeing an emasculated protagonist. As an actor, while playing such roles, you find out that under certain stress and extraordinary circumstances, gender ceases to matter and you start responding as a human being.
TRB: It's such a pulp throwback to the 90s that so many people have got back to me with various interpretations. My personal one, where this was just Vikrant's idea of what the title was, was that Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein translates to 'Those Dark Eyes,' and it is a dark power structure surveilling you throughout your existence. To me, that adds a very cool twist to what is a 90s Bollywood song from one of my favourite films, Baazigar.
ST: I love this interpretation. I'm going to answer with this going forward, whenever Tahir isn't around. (laughs)
AS: I instantly get reminded of Shah Rukh Khan, and we all are such big fans of his. So, that reference is a great feeling. Other than that, whenever we talk about eyes, even in Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein, it instantly takes me to a feeling where there's depth and mystery. It's like getting immersed in an unknown sea.