Director: Ruchi Narain
Writers: Ruchi Narain, Purva Naresh (dialogue)
Cast: Raveena Tandon, Namrata Sheth, Gaurav Sharma, Viraf Patel, Varun Sood, Waluscha D’Souza, Vikramjeet Virk, Devangshi Sen
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar
A mysterious young woman (Namrata Sheth) takes Alibag by storm. She is attractive, rich, well-connected and has no digital footprint. The town looks like Rohit Shetty’s version of Goa destined to be smashed by Scorpios (there’s even a dog named Simba). She infiltrates an elite social circle led by a former Bollywood actress (Raveena Tandon) and her billionaire husband (Gaurav Sharma). She seduces their son, punctures their egos and targets their associates. It is soon revealed that she has returned to avenge her father (Rohit Roy), who was framed for financial fraud committed by these Alibag A-listers. One of her alibis is that her parents died in a car crash – the truth of a friend whose identity she has stolen. Baazigar (1993) weeps. Her partner in crime is a gay cyber-security tycoon (Viraf Patel) who spends his time sending anonymous emails and monitoring secret CCTV cameras. The only problem: She grows feelings. Baazigar weeps harder.
Shows like Karmma Calling don’t unfold; they unravel. Their affinity for mediocrity is almost charming. The gaudy film-making pretends to be an old-television aesthetic, but the result has more to do with science than art: Time is expanded, where every minute feels like an hour and every hour becomes an eternity. If you look closely, there are telltale signs. How do we know the villainous couple is wealthy? Because they throw a Karva Chauth party in which the main event features them taking off in a helicopter so that they can be closer to the moon. Apart from being a remake of an American series called Revenge, how do we know the story is about revenge? Because the protagonist is a woman named Karma (imagine every possible permutation and combination of ‘karm’ in a mechanical Bigg-Boss-like voice-overs); because she helpfully watches old news clips on her laptop of those who wronged her late father, while crossing out their faces with a red marker; because that father – named Satya-jeet of course – left her a box with separate compartments for sad photos, happy photos, letters and evidence. (Expect a ‘Retribution Box’ section in IKEA soon). How do we know Karma Talwar is a badass? Because a flashback has her showing the finger to her (empty) college building. How do we know someone is a Gen-Z influencer? Because she repeatedly calls Instagram “the gram,” chills at a treehouse in her yard, and rebels against her mother by falling for a local hustler who starts every other sentence with “tum log (you people)” or “hum log (we people)”.
Even if you don’t look closely, there are telltale signs. Every rich, young character speaks of Harvard Business School as if it’s the Gurukul (Mohabbatein fans, unite) of Ivy League colleges. A clandestine lover emerges from hotel sheets to say things like “you make me work so hard; no wonder your wife has a perpetual glow”. People magically appear in rooms and eavesdrop on others as if doors, walls and peripheral vision are urban legends. Poverty is owning a boutique pub-cafe in a beach town. The same song (‘Kyon’ from Barfi!) plays at said pub-cafe. Hidden cameras are as common as red flags. The same top is repeated twice, which implies that scenes from two different episodes were shot on the same day. Karma is rhymed with Dharma and Shawarma (just kidding – or am I?). A wealth manager is tricked into buying bad real estate stocks because he blindly believes a client. At least one minister is ruined by a sex tape. High-society folks don’t speak; they converse in smug smirks, evil-eyed glances, corny one liners (“dressed to kill, I see”) and cheap comebacks (“What are your interests, Karma?” – “History”). Flirting features gems like “Why do you need fireworks? You’re a bomb yourself”. A man with washboard abs emerges from a shower with perfectly placed soap bubbles on his skin; one can almost see the assistant directors sprinkling foam on his body in a ‘suitably messy’ way.
Karma’s dubbing is off – a line that sounds deeper than it is. Scenes are staged with seemingly complex background chats like “it’s not easy to change the labour laws”. The performances are such that it looks like everyone is auditioning for a reality show that never surfaces. It doesn’t help that the lead, Namrata Sheth, pulls a Small Wonder in a show that projects cold-blooded as robotic. At one point, Karma is (on) a beach and a socialite warns her with “Sambhal ke, current strong hai; beh jaoge (Be careful, the current is strong; you will be swept away)” – which sounds like a terrible ode to Vijay Dinanath Chauhan’s “hawa tez chalta hai, topi sambhalo (It can get stormier, watch your hat)” in Mukul Anand’s iconic revenge saga, Agneepath (1990). I’m all for camp and kitsch, but only if the craft – or lack of it – is written into the premise. This series is bereft of such guile. It has no excuse. No tact. No style. Time to unleash the pun you’ve been waiting for: Karma might be calling, but its number has been marked as spam.