Creator: Puneet Krishna
Directors: Gurmmeet Singh, Mihir Desai
Writers: Puneet Krishna, Vineet Krishna
Cast: Pankaj Tripathi, Divyenndu Sharma, Ali Fazal, Shweta Tripathi, Rasika Dugal, Kulbhushan Kharbanda
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
The second season of Mirzapur opens with a scorpion on a highway. The menacing little thing crawls as if it owns the tarmac. We hear a motorcade approaching. Given the violence and gore that the series has come to symbolize, this means only one thing. The scorpion is about to be brutally crushed. The cars close in. Yet somehow, it miraculously escapes the assault of burning rubber – the tyres zoom over it, and the focus turns to where the cars are heading. The scorpion lives to sting another day. This shot is supposed to reveal the nature of this opening scene – a hallucinatory dream in which an “immortal” Munna Tripathi (Divyendu Sharma) survives despite falling off a cliff.
But what the prolonged shot also reveals is the nature of the Mirzapur 2 narrative. The scorpion is the core – with a bifurcated tail of revenge and succession – but a dozen cars on a separate chase appear out of nowhere to dramatize the status of this scorpion. As a result, the universe of Mirzapur expands horizontally rather than vertically. The flab is both its weakness and its personality. In other words, if Mirzapur 2 were a raucous student returning home for the holidays, its mother would lovingly remark, “beta, you’ve become healthy.” That could mean anything, but it mostly means more.
It’s been two years since Mirzapur, but Season 2 takes off a few days after the Gorakhpur wedding massacre. After murdering Sweety Gupta (Shriya Pilgaonkar) and Bablu Pandit (Vikrant Massey) in front of their respective partners Guddu (Ali Fazal) and Golu (Shweta Tripathi), the heir-inapparent of Mirzapur, Munna, recovers from his bullet wounds. He goes back to craving the Mirzapur throne and disappointing his don father, Kaleen Bhaiya (Pankaj Tripathi), who in turn has his eyes set on bigger goals: the Uttar Pradesh cabinet. Meanwhile, survivors Guddu and Golu, heartbroken and angry, recover in the wilderness while planning eternal vengeance on the Tripathi family. Technically, that’s all there is to the ten episodes of Season 2: a nightmare of modern Succession, and a story of old-school Revenge. It’s also the only direction Mirzapur 2 could have taken. Perhaps that’s a problem inherent to writing sequels of popular dramas. It’s no more about the “what,” so most creators tend to overcompensate with the “how”: multiple new arcs, multiple new characters, shock-value deaths, heartland expletives, macro ambitions. Mirzapur 2 is certainly guilty of that, but I like that it remains faithful to its ecosystem. Anything else – like bringing back the dead or drowning in flashbacks – might have felt like a desperate reaction to the popularity of the first season.
There may be too much going on, but none of it defies the deep-rooted oppression of its characters. The series doesn’t go out of its way to reflect a critical urban gaze of 2020 – for instance, its secondary Muslim representation in a war of upper-caste Hinduism. The Tripathis and the Shuklas and the Yadavs remain in the spotlight, but the Maqbools and Lalas and Shabnams and Zarinas don’t hijack their mess for the sake of diversity. They remain quietly consequential, restoring the moral balance of Mirzapur when their counterparts spiral beyond redemption. Unlike Raat Akeli Hai and Gulabo Sitabo, the series tangibly hints at a theme of slow-burning feminism. The game can be seen. It’s no gimmick though. The males of Mirzapur are so obsessed with power and deceit and bloodshed and politics that it’s only natural for the women to emerge out of the shadows, discreetly and emphatically.
Tripathi’s scheming wife, Beena (a terrific Rasika Dugal), is arguably this season’s most resounding character: On being reduced to a sex toy by her depraved father-in-law (Kulbhushan Kharbanda), she starts to weaponize the misogyny of the household by exploiting their egos. A grieving Golu, too, has a refined arc. She is unwavering and haunted in her pursuit of vengeance. Her possessiveness for Guddu is purely primal: she resents him for “forgetting” her late sister when a new girl enters the fray. While it’s natural to wonder how Season 2 might have looked if the Massey and Pilgaonkar characters had survived the massacre, there’s a distinct kind of cinematic tension about the two less interesting and ill-equipped siblings being forced to become people they’re not. A bookish introvert and a brawny thug are so unfamiliar to the concept of tragedy that everything becomes an exam to earn those tears.
But then again, there’s the traffic on the highway. The list of people who have an axe to grind with the Tripathis keeps growing: the son of a slain rival, a disgruntled minister, a policeman, Sweety’s father, an abused housemaid, an abused servant, an abused wife, Golu and Guddu, a wronged henchman. The politics in Lucknow and a new generational family feud in Bihar add to the noise, and predictability is the price the writers must pay. For instance, a new character appears in a double role as twin brothers – a hollow retro-Bollywood device placed solely to float a mistaken-identity plotpoint later in the series. Ditto for a saucy secretary shooting a sex video with her boss – you know the clip will later be used as proof to trigger a downfall. Consequently, it’s difficult to keep track of the emotional continuity of the main characters. Each time we see Guddu and Golu hiding out in the mansion of a Muslim leader, we have to think hard to recall what their last scene was, and where exactly they stand in their flowchart for revenge.
Perhaps that’s where the performances come in. Most of them are functional and smart; they’re essentially roles within roles, because everyone seems to be putting on an act to serve their own agenda. But the advantage of a loose canon like Munna Tripathi – again excellently performed by Divyendu Sharma – is that his sheer unpredictability frees him from the shackles of continuity. It doesn’t matter where he was in the previous scene an episode ago, because his rage and resentment allows Munna to revel in lateral movement. Pankaj Tripathi, as his father Kaleen Bhaiya, doesn’t have the same freedom, but he still manages to overcome the burden of being trapped by an elaborate plot. Even in one of the worst scenes of this season – where Kaleen Bhaiya visits a sexologist, and the makers play the moment for crass sex-comedy laughs – Tripathi controls the rhythm without becoming a complete caricature.
At its core, Mirzapur is easy entertainment under the ruse of a long-form Gangs of Wasseypur experience – it is driven by the physical, by the action and dialect and unsubtle twists and morbid humour. But the screenplay isn’t all style. There’s substance in the way the writing reveals the thematic dualities of simultaneous threads. A girl locating the inner animal by hacking a man to death is intercut with another girl who struggles to finish off a man at her mercy. A woman learning the ways of a gun in a jungle morphs into a wounded man unable to lift his gun, which further morphs into a woman unable to pull the trigger on herself in her bedroom. Two separate characters reveal their full names for contrasting purposes – one to establish formality, the other to establish intimacy. Forced sex in one scene cuts to bondage sex in another. At one point, a scene of three separate black-sheep family members being dismissed by their elders toggle between one another. And the best of them: Towards the end, a son surviving an attack orchestrated by his father is intercut with another father saving his son by killing his attacker.
The script is carefully constructed to deflate the randomness of its offshoots. When the palette is so busy and colourful, these little details run the risk of escaping our attention. But they are the reason Mirzapur holds such a specific allure – it’s why the series continues to occupy a space that’s one rung higher than mass but one rung lower than class. Evidently, this balance is a sweet spot for Indian television shows. All of which goes to say that all the cars in the opening scene may look similar, but their perception of speed depends on the humans driving them. If any one of them makes a mistake, the scorpion – deadly to look at, tricky to watch – becomes roadkill. Fortunately, Mirzapur 2 finds peace in its patterns.