Director: Shaad Ali
Writers: Siddharth Hirwe, Riya Poojary, Anuj Rajoria, Navnit Singh Raju
Cast: Jaideep Ahlawat, Zeeshan Ayyub, Tina Desai, Satish Kaushik, Maya Alagh, Shruti Seth, Mugdha Godse, Jitendra Joshi
Cinematographer: Vikash Nowlakha
Editor: Abhijit Deshpande
Streaming on: ZEE5
Bloody Brothers – a Hindi adaptation of the British mini-series Guilt – is Shaad Ali's second web remake in quick succession after Call My Agent: Bollywood. The good news is Bloody Brothers isn't half as bad as Call My Agent: Bollywood. (Nothing is). The bad news is it's still not good. And it's not good at a very basic level. It's an execution and craft problem. The film-making is disjointed, bland and awkward. In fact, it makes the screenplay look silly. I'm not hating on the director here. Like most youngsters in the mid-2000s, I rooted for Shaad Ali hard on the back of the game-changing Saathiya and Bunty Aur Babli; I even thought Jhoom Barabar Jhoom was distinctly eccentric. But his last three films read as: Kill Dil, Ok Jaanu, Soorma. His three web series (in three consecutive years) read as: Pawan & Pooja, Call My Agent and Bloody Brothers. I get that artists can lose form and touch just as athletes do. But how does one unlearn the ability to tell a story? For the record, I really wanted Shaad Ali to prosper after those first three titles – nothing breaks my heart more than having to criticize sub-standard work of a once-promising director.
Onto the six-episode show now. Bloody Brothers revolves around Jaggi (Jaideep Ahlawat) and Daljeet (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), two brothers in Ooty who accidentally kill an old man (Asrani) while driving home one night. They put the body back in the house and try to cover up their "crime" as a natural death. Things start to get messy when Daljeet gets romantically involved with the old man's visiting niece, Sophie (Tina Desai), in half an evening. Daljeet just attended the wedding of his ex, and Sophie is trying to leave her toxic past behind, so two wounded souls meeting over wine and music during a solemn occasion is naturally on the cards. Sophie suspects foul play with her uncle, the two brothers hire an amateur detective, Jaggi's marriage is falling apart, a lesbian affair blooms on the side, and ultimately, every character in town is not who we think they are.
The that-escalated-quickly black comedy can be fun to watch – where one isolated event sets an erratic ball rolling, with the small premise mushrooming into a wild tree of weeds. I haven't seen Guilt, but I suspect the series might have conveyed the started-here-ended-somewhere-else feeling with a sense of rhythm. That rhythm is sorely missing from this show: scenes don't segue into one another so much as duel with each other like colour-coded boxes on an emotion chart. There is very little emotional and narrative continuity; every moment is unsure of where and how to end, thus compromising a screenplay that's already crowded by nature. For instance, the arrival of a sinister cigar-smoking godfather (Satish Kaushik) is marked by overlong and poorly framed monologues that are supposed to be stylish but end up being needlessly indulgent. In other words, the fundamentals of the craft – cutting a shot at the right time, cross-cutting between timelines, the timing of the background score, the fluidity of montages – are lacking, which makes it hard to engage with the world at large.
The non-linear narrative doesn't help. The specificity – "four days before accident," "ten days after accident," "two hours before accident" – can be disorienting, especially when every episode introduces a shady character or two. Jaggi's wife feels neglected, and is seduced by a woman (Mugdha Godse) from her gym – the scenes between the two are woefully choreographed, as are most scenes that involve one human interacting with another. Not enough imagination is infused into the framing of a conversation or location. Ooty is strangely shot as well, which is not to say I expect an eerie hill-station mood, but at least don't make it look like Goa outside of those culturally manicured cottages. (One of which probably hosted the death of Malini Sharma in Raaz – sorry, I can't mention Ooty without wondering where she is now).
You'd think it's hard to go wrong with a cast headlined by Jaideep Ahlawat and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub (though his previous series, A Simple Murder, felt just as convoluted). But Bloody Brothers is not too clever at honing their talent. They share some chemistry, playing off contrasting personalities and elevating the most average lines – but it's clear that both Ahlawat and Ayyub are better than the material they're given. It's not their fault that their actions from one scene look disconnected from the previous one. (I didn't even realize Jaggi was a lawyer till the last episode). Ditto for Shruti Seth, who looks like she's giving it her all – and she does well as a wife whose resentment emerges through flushed cheeks – but is let down by an increasingly incoherent screenplay. It's worse when performers look sincere in a mediocre series; it's like they are willing us to see what the result could have been.
The rest of the cast is uneven. Maya Alagh delivers an intriguing turn as the old man's two-faced neighbour, Sheila, who is visibly modeled after the infamous Ma Anand Sheela. There's something off about Tina Desai's diction and dialogue delivery; it often feels like she's punctuating her words without connecting them to feelings. I've been noticing her since The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel; she uses her face well, but even in Mumbai Diaries 26/11, her body language is at odds with the way she speaks. Also, let me just say that it's alarming to see Indraneil Sengupta in literally every second Hindi web show (small-town murder mysteries not withstanding) being made; he's barely there in this one, too, which has been sort of a 'role' since Kahaani.
Bloody Brothers does open nicely, with a tipsy Ahlawat dispensing wisdom in a car, almost like it were hoping to summon the magic of other Ahlawat-in-car stories such as Paatal Lok and Sandeep Aur Pink Faraar. A few moments of brotherly banter aside, Bloody Brothers goes downhill from the car. The final episode just feels like an assembly line of stretched resolutions, blunting the twists and turns that aren't shocking enough to begin with. I guess what I really want to say is this: Bloody Brothers is neither a comedy nor a drama, but this conflict of identity is the least of its problems.