Murder in Mahim Review: A Toothless Caricature of a Crime Drama

Despite its talented cast led by Vijay Raaz and Ashutosh Rana, the series feels like a lost opportunity. Murder in Mahim is streaming on JioCinema.
Murder in Mahim Review: A Toothless Caricature of a Crime Drama
Murder in Mahim Review: A Toothless Caricature of a Crime Drama

Director: Raj Acharya
Writers: Mustafa Neemuchwala, Udai Singh Pawar
Cast: Vijay Raaz, Ashutosh Rana, Shivani Raghuvanshi, Shivaji Satam, Divya Jagdale, Rajesh Khattar

Episodes: 8

Streaming on: JioCinema

Every second show is an investigative thriller these days. You know the drill. The whodunit is the body (no pun intended) and the social commentary is the soul. The padding – the personal lives of the police, the societal rot, the domestic conflicts, the little narrative offshoots – is the point of the plot. The twists are secondary. But the padding in Murder in Mahim, a long-form adaptation of Jerry Pinto’s crime novel of the same name, has a problem. You can tell that most moments are artificially inflated; a two-line exchange is stretched to 20 just because it’s an eight-episode story. You can also tell that they’re ‘assembled’ together, like a first cut, without any sense of pace or continuity. The scenes are so long and isolated that the broader purpose is forgotten. In short, this is the kind of padding that warrants a no-shot LBW (Leg Before Wicket) joke.

Murder in Mahim opens with the brutal murder of a gay sex worker in the toilet of Mahim railway station. Inspector Shivajirao Jende (Vijay Raaz) gets on the case. Of course he has demons: His old father (Shivaji Satam) was booted from the force after Shiva’s ‘unofficial’ partner, TV reporter Peter Fernandes (Ashutosh Rana), ran a corruption exposé. It tore the crime-fighting duo apart. But circumstances conspire to reunite the cop and journalist. More murders happen. LGBTQ+ protests erupt across the city. The investigation is intercut with Shiva’s anger issues at home, Peter’s struggle to understand his potentially queer son, and the life of Shiva’s new subordinate Firdaus Rabbani (Shivani Raghuvanshi), a lesbian in a closeted romance with her best friend. The middle-class homophobia of Peter’s generation and the police department comes into focus. With Section 377 still in practice in 2013, people like Shiva and Peter find it difficult to separate their prejudice from their jobs; for them, the victims are criminals too. 

Murder in Mahim on JioCinema
Murder in Mahim on JioCinema

Simplistic Staging

The deeper they delve into the case, the more enlightened they become. But their transformation is anything but subtle. At times, it’s like someone is killing people solely to educate the boomers (how twisted-cool a premise is that?). At one point, on discovering that Firdaus is dating a girl, Shiva and Peter are shown having a moral-science-lesson-style chat: “You know, they are just like us. Society must change its perception towards them.” Fine shows like Kohrra and Delhi Crime use the same formula – where the dynamics of the case force its investigators to look within. But their change isn’t verbalized like this. The characters don’t feel the need to speak about it; it’s visible in their behavior. The satisfaction, for the viewers, comes from the ability to identify and decode these quiet themes. Murder in Mahim literalizes its commentary. Even a dying man breaks into a rant about regret, hypocrisy and Indian society. 

The staging contributes to this simplistic tone. For starters, the red herrings are basic. Peter is shown returning home in the middle of the night seconds after the first murder. His son, Sunil, is missing for the first few episodes, allegedly away on a research trip. The writing makes it look fishy so that he becomes a suspect, only to introduce him in the fourth episode as if he was never away. Peter’s wife (Divya Jagdale) spends the first half of the series being regressive, only to become the most liberal woman once her son returns. At some point, Shiva is led to believe that Peter is the killer. He storms into his home to have a showdown. Instantly, Shiva’s theory is debunked by a phone call. You can tell that the film-making is unsure about how to show two humbled men. So it resorts to an awkward montage-like transition, where we see Shiva apologizing to Peter at a beach. How did they get there? Did they not speak in between? What was the ride like? Why the romantic background score? 

Murder in Mahim on JioCinema
Murder in Mahim on JioCinema

Preaching and Reaching

When two characters chat in a moving car against a green-screen background, it looks fake, yet the series insists on staging the most crucial scenes inside cars (including a confession). LGBTQ+ protests happen outside police stations, but their chants (“We want justice!”) are so poorly dubbed and mixed that they sound like morning prayers in a classroom. Firdaus’s defining moment comes when she defies her superior, crosses the barricade to join the protestors and waves the pride flag. The scene is undone by its craft: The crowd goes pin-drop silent when she tells off her boss, almost as if the chanting has an off switch. These are tiny details, but they add up to dismantle our investment in the journey. The last episode – where the killer is revealed – is almost incoherent. Information and entire scenes seem to be missing, and the twist itself lacks conviction. If revenge was the only motive, why would the killer behave like they’re a stylish serial killer leaving clues on bodies for the police? It makes no sense. 

For a show that bats against bigotry and homophobia, its own approach is steeped in caricature. Muslim characters are seen eating biryani, and yelling “Hai allah!” and “Janaab” when a cop intimidates them. The Gujarati twang of a character called Mrs. Desai is limited to her English words only; khakhra is the only snack on her dining table. A gay screenwriter named Leslie is the most flamboyant cliche (“Oi Peter-boy!”), a 1990s sidekick stuck in a 2024 multiverse. And for a show that has the name of a place in its title, its sense of place is strangely superficial. I like that a lot of it is filmed on location – the railway stations, Dadar chowpatty, the inner lanes and footpaths – but it never becomes author Jerry Pinto’s Mahim. The area never becomes a character; it rarely informs our reading of the people scrambling within. None of the houses look lived-in either. Peter’s old-school bungalow looks like an IKEA section called ‘Catholic Coolth’. Shiva’s flat is ‘Honest Cop Home’. Even a seafront bar looks designed as ‘Koliwada Living’. 

There are two ways to process the performances. The optimistic way is: Two decades ago, who would have imagined a mainstream series being led by pigeonholed Bollywood veterans like Vijay Raaz and Ashutosh Rana? Its existence is a miracle. But the practical way is: A cast that features Raaz, Rana, Smita Tambe (as Shiva’s wife), Divya Jagdale and Shivaji Satam deserves a better show. The actors are flattened by the film-making – apart from the odd spark in Shiva’s arguments with his dad (the father-son angle gets resolved too easily), or when he stands up for Firdaus with Vijay-Raaz-esque swag. To call it a lost opportunity is an understatement. To call it a cinematic crime would be an exaggeration. Murder in Mahim is not unwatchable, but it fumbles the fundamentals of its genre. It mistakes slow-burning for slow. If it were an Indian batsman, it would be criticized for its strike-rate – in Test cricket no less.

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