Avrodh Season 2 Is A Shapeless, Spineless Government Mouthpiece On Demonetisation, Film Companion

Some shows are so ruthlessly bland, so spineless and cumbersome, you just don’t have the patience to sift the silver lining from the thick, black cloud. With the second season of Avrodh, there is this meandering, shapeless, directionless thrust; as the story is slowly forming, you are not entirely sure where the focus is — demolition, demonetization, drugs, diamonds, RDX — and where it is heading. And since everything unfolds with a sloppy pacing, lacking actors of charisma and characters of charm, you are not even inclined to wait, simmer, and find out. A deflationary air saps any enthusiasm for the show, which inelegantly reveals itself for what it is — a government mouthpiece trying to rationalize demonetization, an act which was described at the time as a “massive theft of people’s property without even the pretene of due process”. 

The first season of Avrodh followed, with a shrieking nationalist fervour — where love for country is celebrated as a collective carnival of hatred — the Uri surgical strikes. This season is not a continuation of that story, adapted from India’s Most Fearless, a collection by Shiv Aroor and Rahul Singh, but like a tired franchise caught in the crosshairs of trending topics, we are following another story of Indian intelligence, of the state being the eventual smarty pants of a droning, drooling, sleepy cross-country romp. Pradeep Bhattacharya (Abir Chatterjee), an income tax officer and Indian Army captain — though it is not clear how one can be both a desk job pen pusher and flinging grenades in Kashmir — is the central protagonist, a Bengali in Mumbai. This is something SonyLIV shows do, which I find fascinating, infusing as many cultural idioms as they can, with filter coffee, the sweet-edged Bengali, a Manipuri dance, a Kashmir shootout, a confection that seems imposed onto the narrative, but whose sweet intent is palpable nonetheless. 

Avrodh Season 2 Is A Shapeless, Spineless Government Mouthpiece On Demonetisation, Film Companion

Even if we keep the spineless politics of the show aside for a second, the problem runs deeper. Avrodh, initially, seems incapable of constructing a single pulsating scene, despite the high stakes chase and shooting sequences on paper. It is as if the makers do not know the grammar of suspense. The camera is always coolly observing the running, the shooting, the escaping from a distance, unwilling to get down, dirty, and sweaty with the characters, preferring a top-shot to give a sense of space instead of suspense, jiggle-jiggling a little to give the shoddy illusion of grit. There is a nighttime shootout with terrorists — and by nighttime I mean shot during daytime and then colour corrected into a pale blue darkness — that is one of the most stunning examples of tired filmmaking. Not a single shot, not a single shriek of the background score, not a single action maneuver produces the sigh, the jolt, the joy of seeing something novel. I am saying this with confidence having rewinded through the sequence a few times, trying to figure why a scene that is supposed to be brimming with tension feels so flat, lifeless, and tame. Even the bomb blast doesn’t produce the shock that it should, being an unexpected bang in the battlefield. There is even something comical about the way people are gunned down, choke on their blood, and fall to the ground. This feels like a show made by people who were told to make a show, as opposed to the yearning, yanking beauty of a storyteller burning with a vision, an angsty passion. 

The sidebars on the “artha-vyavastha” of the country kept blindsiding me, because I kept forgetting I was watching a government mouthpiece in the gossamer gauze of a streaming show. The show goes to great lengths to rationalize demonetization.

Avrodh Season 2 Is A Shapeless, Spineless Government Mouthpiece On Demonetisation, Film Companion

But how do you tell a jelly-spined maker to stand erect and command the room with charisma? One who suddenly breaks away from the proceedings of his story to show us slide-shows of the “Benefits of GST”, and in an absolutely ridiculous twisting of economic theory blames inflation entirely on black money. The sidebars on the “artha-vyavastha” of the country kept blindsiding me, because I kept forgetting I was watching a government mouthpiece in the gossamer gauze of a streaming show. Avrodh goes to great lengths to rationalize demonetization. That initially, the Prime Minister (Mohan Agashe), in October, decided to wait till the fiscal year begins, in April, to demonetize the notes, as opposed to the overnight bombshell in November Narendra Modi dropped. But in the last episode, there is an emergency — of Pakistani terrorists airdropping counterfeit cash — that makes the Prime Minister take this bold decision overnight. That it has been debunked that the “black money” rationale for demonetization holds no water is of no relevance to the show, stuck as it is up the ass of some claustrophobic propaganda news item. The stench of dishonest storytelling clogs the show every time it moves to the corridors of Delhi. 

The sad part, perhaps, is that you can see the reach of the show, even as you are experiencing its limited grasp. There is a shootout towards the end of the season in a broken down ice factory, where the show is finally able to muster a semblance of thrilling craft — the way the camera becomes the perspective of the shooter, only to shift perspective, where a gunshot coming out of nowhere feels like, indeed, it is coming out of nowhere, manipulating the screen rate to elevate suspense along with a thumping, insistent, but effective background scoring. But that’s about it. A show that runs for eight forty-minute episodes, begins to feel like a marathon of bad ideas, punctuated by one, perhaps two sequences that make you sit up and take notice. 

 

Aahana Kumra — in gorgeous saris and stoles — plays an agent of the ISI working in India, trying to bribe a concoction of Indian movements with money to destroy the state — LTTE, Maoists, Naga Rebels, Gujarati drug merchants. This itself tells you how shallow the maker’s conception of these movements are. She is working under the behest of Eshaan Waziri (Sanjay Suri), a lawyer-professor-terrorist, a stoic man who masterminds the whole operation, which includes 50-70 kgs of RDX, bombing 25 planes, “activating seperatist groups” in India, the above mentioned ones, to burst through public places with fire and bedlam, and flushing our country with counterfeit currency. 

Perhaps because I am more offended by rotting craft than rotten politics, I want to end by thinking about the staging of the series, stiff and awkward. For example, when four people are in a scene together, each is not reacting to the other three, but only to one at a time. So Sanjay Suri answers a question of a man about how the detonators will get through the airport X Ray machines, and after he finishes, he stares at the man, not knowing what to do, while the conversation has moved on. He looks austere, silly, awkward in his suave turtlenecks and coats, plunged deep into a story that does not care for charm, honesty, charisma, content as it is with dancing like a controlled sock-puppet on the edge of a blunt knife.

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