Duranga Review: A K-drama Remake With Neither Style Nor Substance

This official remake of Flower of Evil is streaming on Zee5
Duranga Review: A K-drama Remake With Neither Style Nor Substance

Director: Aijaz Khan, Pradeep Sarkar
Cast: Gulshan Devaiah, Drashti Dhami
Streaming on:  ZEE5

Adapted from the South Korean drama Flower of Evil, Duranga takes an interesting idea and turns it into a tacky fetishisation of big-city crime. The nine-episode series is blandly performed, scripted and staged – playing out like an extended dramatic-recreation segment from a true-crime documentary that forgets to appear. The craft is at least a decade behind the curve. Characters don't speak; they narrate information and emotions to each other. Speed in a chase is conveyed by changing frame rates. People narrow their eyes and pose for effect when they're about to say or do something scandalous. The lighting at night – like on a boat or even underwater – reeks of that artificial film-shoot vibe where the background is pitch-dark and only the frame is lit like a stadium. The camera lingers on every face a little bit longer because Duranga is essentially a giant red herring with a bit of story in between.

This is also the kind of series in which a suspect looks and speaks like a nutcase only after it's revealed that he or she is the killer; a kidnapper starts coughing only after he says he has last-stage cancer; a man meeting a potential psychopath considers it good sense to answer his phone with his back turned to him; a child conveniently disappears for episodes because her parents are busy protagonists with wild secrets; the brief to portray antisocial personality disorder seems to be "Vicki in Small Wonder but older" or "Speak like a robot but also don't".

I'm at the risk of finishing this review without mentioning the premise. It's that sort of fundamentally flawed misfire. On paper at least, Duranga sounds intriguing. It's about a sociopath struggling to lead a normal life. Ira (Drashti Dhami) is a police officer in Mumbai, happily married to a metal artist named Sammit (Gulshan Devaiah). They have a little daughter, but the script treats her as a dispensable device. Sammit is immediately – not soon, not later, but immediately – revealed to be a man hiding a dark past. The writing has no chill. An elaborate exchange with his fake parents convey that nobody must know who he really is: Abhishek Banne, the son of notorious (and dead) serial killer Bala Banne. It's on a platter. Some strange murders in the city alert the police to the potential return of Bala's successor, who is suspected to be Abhishek. The film-making wants us to believe this, too. So it does everything possible to make Sammit/Abhishek look shady and dangerous – his voice is inert; he listens to tapes and literally practices facial expressions; he is never at home when a murder happens; he spends an unholy amount of time around sharp instruments in his workshop; he holds a crime vlogger hostage; he has gory flashbacks; he cooks well.

Given that the treatment is so intent on painting Abhishek as a madman, it's obvious that he isn't the culprit. It's also obvious that wife Ira will eventually find out who he really is by simply following and overhearing him. The series takes a long and convoluted route to reach there. Ironically, for a story that's about people who lie so well, the show itself is terrible at bluffing. It tries to be clever so desperately at times that the twists become painfully visible. For instance, Sammit steps out in a killer-style raincoat the same night a man is killed by someone in a killer-style raincoat at a Chinese restaurant. At least twice a scene is edited to make it seem like Sammit has brutally killed someone – because he clearly has not. Needless to mention, Duranga would be the world's worst poker player.

There are other nagging problems, too. Given that Abhishek is presented as a man incapable of emoting a lot, I'm not sure what it says about Ira that she is perfectly satisfied with her 'loving' husband for a decade. In their meet-cute flashbacks, there are no signs of her training to be a police officer, because apparently, it's the sort of career you can just pick up on a whim. But then again, Ira is in a police force that's just about competent enough to stride into crime scenes with swagger, and just about incompetent enough to spell out their thoughts and wonder who the killer is. They reminded me of those doctors in Bollywood movies from the Nineties whose only scenes featured them worriedly walking out of the operation theater and apologising to the patient's family. Or, on a better day, pronouncing a disease correctly.

Dhami modulates her voice weirdly in her role as the oblivious wife/cop, almost as if she was told to behave like the serial killer. At one point, even the child sounds ominous, as does the dhokla on her plate — any self-respecting Gujarati will tell you the puffy yellow dhoklas are the exoticized tourist versions of the grounded white ones. It pains me to see an actor of Gulshan Devaiah's calibre come undone by a performance-within-a-performance role. Even though some of the show's only half-decent moments are centered on his character's trauma, Abhishek is written as more of a cool concept than an actual human.

It's strange to see Pradeep Sarkar's name listed as one of the show's two directors. Sarkar was behind one of modern Hindi cinema's great antagonists in Mardaani (2014) and yet there's not a single memorable character in Duranga, which is located entirely in a world of shadows and repressed memories. Making the serial killer's eyes look ghostly in flashbacks is college-level gimmickry. I wish I had something nice or constructive to say about Duranga other than the fact that it ends. Small mercies, sure, but life is too short to admire a Mumbai-based show in which houses have "extra spaces" that double up as makeshift ICU rooms, metal workshops and torture chambers. Where's a generic hill-station whodunit when you need one?

Duranga is available to stream on ZEE5.

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