Mohanagar, on Hoichoi, is from Start to Finish a Mosharraf Karim Show, Film Companion
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Director: Ashfaque Nipun

Actors: Mosharraf Karim, Mostafizur Noor Imran, Shamol Mawla

Streaming on: Hoichoi

Mohanagar, unlike most crime thrillers, isn’t about catching the criminal. It’s about solving the crime, but not how we conventionally see in such films; it’s about how twisted the protagonist, the office-in-charge Harun (Mosharraf Karim) is. The web series revolves around a high-profile hit-and-run case involving the son of a big politician (Shamol Mawla), and it appears that Harun is helping the rich and the powerful. These kind of screenplays are often worked backwards from the end—the trick is make the deceit as invisible as possible. 

Creator, writer, director Ashfaque Nipun does a pretty decent job in keeping us guessing Harun’s real motivations. A good opening scene sets the tone: we see Harun and the rest of his team, including the rookie cop Moloy (a sincere Mostafizur Noor Imran), waiting outside a slum where a criminal-on-the-run is reportedly hiding. Harun decides to go alone, lest too many policemen inadvertently alert the criminal. He finds him with relative ease, and asks him some questions; when he comes out, he tells his men that the information was wrong—the man they are looking for isn’t inside. It could go two ways from here: Harun could either be a genius—with eyes on the bigger picture—or he’s a cop who’s corrupt to the bone. Over the next seven episodes, the series tries it darnedest to confuse us with Harun’s contradictions.  

Harun is a fascinating character, wickedly played by Karim, who’s just one of those actors who’s amusing to watch even when he is doing nothing

Unorthodox cops are nothing new in cinema (think of the Prosenjit Chatterjee character in Baishe Shrabon) but Mohanagar pushes it to an extreme by making that the fulcrum of the narrative. Harun is a fascinating character, wickedly played by Karim, who’s just one of those actors who’s amusing to watch even when he is doing nothing; here he’s ruthlessly cruel to the prime suspect one moment and painfully servile in another—it’s tough to read his face. As in all cop movies, he gets a sort of sidekick in the inexperienced, but righteous and straight-thinking Moloy, who he gives life-lessons in the form of lines like, ‘There are two kinds of people you should never lie to…’ 

This police procedural unfolds at a particular police station in Dhaka over one night, and this setup has its advantages. It narrows down the possibilities of logical gaps that could arise after the climactic reveal—for example, how come a seasoned OC like Harun doesn’t have a reputation? Why do his colleagues not have a clue about his working style? These are questions the next season—promised to us at the end of a cliffhanger ending—will have to answer. 

A depressed, gritty “realistic” look, borrowed from the stylebook of mass-produced web series centred on crime, weighs down Mohanagar. It’s completely devoid of any personality…

Meanwhile, season 1 is frustratingly full of its own problems. Mohanagar props up the main act with subplots that don’t make sense and supporting players essayed by actors who display varying degrees of incompetence. A track involving a starlet (who the main accused is dating) and the portrayal of a sensationalistic media comes across as especially shoddy. The show lacks nuance when it comes to presenting a believable picture of the upper crust Bangladeshi society (people in parties say lines like ‘Maal khele man baby hoe jaye’). There is some promise in the subplot about a regular, upwardly mobile youth (Khairul Basar) who gets sucked into the case with no fault of his—in a nice touch, he has an exchange with Moloy, who, it turns out, is from the same ancestral village and the same college; the scene tells me something about contemporary Bangladesh—but it doesn’t cover its grounds and leaves us with logical inconsistencies (for example, you can see that there are other ways for him to get out of the mess, but the show conveniently ignores them). 

A depressed, gritty “realistic” look, borrowed from the stylebook of mass-produced web series centred on crime, weighs down Mohanagar. It’s completely devoid of any personality, unlike that other show from Bangladesh, Taqdeer (which displayed a visual flair that stood out). This is a worrying sign. In the last few years, Bangladesh has produced some of the better Bengali works, more original and rooted than the stuff made in Kolkata. However, the problem is that Kolkata is where the money comes from. Mohanagar is produced by Hoichoi, a production house not exactly known for backing creatively risky projects. It was only a matter of time that the mediocrity crept in.

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