Creator/Director: Sayantan Ghosal
Writer: Rangan Chakraborty
Actors: Kaushik Sen, Sauraseni Moitra, Gaurab Chakraborty, Anirban Chakraborty
The Bengali web series, Lalbazaar, is about Kolkata’s storied police department, the city’s iconic crime fighters in whites, and the sordid crimes they solve. We follow a team of police officers, led by main man Suranjan Sen (Kaushik Sen), who is in his late forties, is divorced and who starts drinking early.
The ten episode series, created and directed by Sayantan Ghosal (and presented by Ajay Devgn), begins with the murder of a pregnant prostitute, followed by a case where a bag of human innards are found in a lake. But soon enough it becomes clear that the show has very little going for it in terms of plot and character. All it wants is to look and sound a certain way. The problem with shows such as Lalbazaar is that they take advantage of the relaxed censorship rules on the web by using sex and violence as a badge of cool, giving the audience the illusion that they are being served something ‘realistic’; they give terms like ‘dark’ and ‘edgy’ a bad name.
This has been compounded by the success of recent Hindi crime dramas Sacred Games, Delhi Crime and Paatal Lok, set in the underbelly of a big city. The making of Lalbazaar is nowhere close to the professionalism on display in those shows—even though it borrows heavily from the visual style in its choice of colour scheme, lighting etc. As a result, there aren’t even that many surface level pleasures.
I guess Lalbazaar wants to shock the viewer, but the only way it will shock them is how this ‘gritty’ crime drama sometimes jumps genre and become a sex-comedy. Most of the cases shown in the show are related to sex in some way. While some of them are supposed to disturb us with its brutality (a father alleging that his mute and deaf daughter has been raped by his own brother), others are meant to produce cheap laughs. There is an entire track around a man who was murdered with women’s underwear stuffed into his mouth, which drove me nuts. And the show makes some serious lapses in an episode about a homophobic serial killer. For instance, when one of the characters comes back home with a flashy haircut, his wife bursts out laughing and says, ‘You look like a homo’; he brushes her aside with disgust, repulsed by the suggestion. In the same episode, Gauranga (Anirban Chakraborty), one of Suranjan’s team-members, can’t seem to get over the fact that gay men have anal sex.
These things might not have mattered beyond a point if the storytelling wasn’t such a mess. No number of drone shots of the city can gloss over its shortcomings. The plot lets a criminal get caught or flee as per convenience. The writing (Rangan Chakraborty) is too pat, the dialogue too clunky and expository:
These things might not have mattered beyond a point if the storytelling wasn’t such a mess. No number of drone shots of the city can gloss over its shortcomings. The plot lets a criminal get caught or flee as per convenience. The writing (Rangan Chakraborty) is too pat, the dialogue too clunky and expository: A young, married woman snaps at her domestic help: ‘Ei shut up toh’; when a character talks to her daughter’s kidnappers on the phone, she says, ‘You people. Tum log bohut kameene ho.’
I don’t want to nitpick on the few decent things in the show, like some of the performances, but the otherwise solid Sauraseni Maitra (who plays Mira, an IPS trainee under Suranjan) needs to work on her Bangla diction—the show tries to justify her by saying that she has spent a lot of time in Delhi. I liked Ronjini Chakraborty (Tumbbad), whose large, dusky eyes do the talking; she brings a dignity and grace to Farzana, a prostitute with a backstory.
And you’re just glad that Suranjan is played by Kaushik Sen, another character actor (like Jaideep Ahlawat) who lands a big role in a web series. He makes his scenes watchable by doing small actorly improvisations. There is a lovely throwaway moment when a bodyguard appointed to protect Suranjan, meant to shadow him without his knowledge, finds out that he knew all along that he was being tailed. Sen puts his arm around his neck—a warm, casual gesture—and takes him for tea. The good thing about bad web shows (as compared to bad feature films) is that its long format allows for such moments; the bad thing is that there is that much more to sit through.