Director: E Niwas
Writer: Ishan Trivedi
Cast: Jimmy Sheirgill, Mita Vashisht, Yashpal Sharma, Varun Badola, Suhasini Mulay, Parul Gulati, Pulkit Makol
Producer: Sameer Nair, Deepak Segal, Sunjoy Waddhwa, Comall Sunjoy W
Streaming Platform: SonyLIV
Throughout the series, set in Punjab, there is an obvious schism between the migrants from Bihar- the “bhailog”- and the Punjabis. This involves suspicion, eviction, and even suspension from jobs, because of where they come from and the deep distrust that has bred into the rotting cadaver of xenophobia. It also involves a gang war. In the opening scene we have Jimmy Sheirgill playing Bishan Khosla, the sarkari-vakeel, doling out a monologue about integration, to an audience of Biharis who have been evicted, and Punjabis who have filed the case. As the judgment is delivered, you can see pagdi-wearing men get up and leave in frustration. The binary is pretty solid, and also speaks to the nature of long-distance migration in India, where people from Ganjam in Odisha shack up in tin tenaments in Surat, or those of Bihar in Punjab. Gone is the assumption of rural-urban migration being a move to the closest big-town.
The story, based on the Israeli namesake show, is about a Bishan Khosla (a stoic Jimmy Sheirgill whose nonchalance becomes increasingly unnerving) whose son (a suitably mopey Pulkit Makol) unwittingly commits a hit-and-run, and the extent that he, a single-father, goes to protect him. The victim is the local gangster’s kin. This could have been a story of privilege, with the entitled son, and the forgiving father. But there’s a strain of complexity here. The child is a college going kid, asthematic, anxiety ridden, but also gilded with guilt, which he expresses alternatively as rage and tears towards his father who hasn’t been entirely present through his teenage years. Additionally, the victim here is not a paragon of goodness, or an anonymous person. He’s someone who is tied to the shady dealings of the city, someone you might even wish had died. So this is not a story with clear binaries of right-and-wrong.
But as a result of this, the storytelling becomes inert because the narrative is unable to build these morally complex characters into more engaging, and real beings. The goings-on has a listless quality where even the big reveals, like why Abeer’s mother died by suicide, just play out without any shock-value or vigour. The graph of the son, Abeer, for example, is pretty static through the season. His interactions with his father are quite badly written. The scene when he tells his father about the hit-and-run is needlessly repetitive, and you don’t get a sense that these two characters share anything- love, resentment, anger; nothing.
Even the subplot involving Khosla’s CRPF Jawan friend (Varun Badola) who helps him get rid of the car is written unevenly, and sometimes incongruously. The story is patchy, and sometimes the strands don’t tie up well. The story spirals needlessly, including an odd relationship between Abeer and a PT Instructor in his college. It is meant to highlight Abeer’s loneliness but it doesn’t feel causal enough. None of the sub-plots engage, but worse, none of them inform or help the characters grow. There are some telling moments here and there, like when Khosla pronounces, “Judge khud crime karega, toh use kaun judge karega”. Read the statement again and try to locate the sense of impunity. The idea that instruments of justice are immune from checks-and-balances is quite ingrained in our system. Look at how the sexual harassment allegations against the previous Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi took place, under the most opaque, and questionable circumstances. Khosla here is trying to move up the ladder and become a High Court judge. What is he willing to give up in return? There’s even a quiet relationship between Khosla and his constantly smoking mother-in-law (Suhasini Mulay, whose constant-smoking is meant to mean something, no prizes for what that is) that always feels like it’s close to boiling over, perhaps she blames him for not loving her daughter and grandson enough.
It is thus when the series is making these statements without really articulating them that it shines. Sample this. Khosla’s protege (Parul Gulati) is also a migrant from Bihar, and even while her performative accent jars, hers is a double-whammy. She is hurt by both xenophobia and sexism. At one point, she is removed from a case, and she runs to Khosla asking what happened. And he says “It’s because you’re…” and just when I thought he was going to say “from Bihar”, she cuts him off, “a woman?” He nods at her, though I wasn’t sure if he was agreeing with her, or giving in because perhaps in his head sexism is less disagreeable than xenophobia. Again, none of this is stated, its brilliance lies in its capacity to not draw too much attention to itself, and merely simmer. But when the show articulates, which it does a lot in its 6 hour run-time chopped into 12 episodes, it bores, because the writers here don’t seem to have the capacity to build a scene up, or let it down. (It also ends on a cliffhanger. If 6 hours is not enough time to tell an engaging, cathartic, and complete story, the fault is in the writing) The characters just froth in the chaos you rarely care for, and ultimately disengage from.