Director: Ashish R Shukla
Writer: Gibran Noorani, Kshitij Roy
Cast: Divyenndu, Anshul Chauhan, Zeishan Quadri, Mukul Chadda, Rajesh Sharma, Satyajit Sharma, and Gagan Anand.
Producer: Shobha Kapoor, Ekta Kapoor
Streaming Platform: ALT Balaji, Zee5
An investigating officer (Syed Zeeshan Quadri) and his wife decide to heat marital matters up by watching Made In America S&M porn and copy-cat it in their Varanasi 1 BHK house. The officer is stomach-first on the bed, and the wife ties his hands and legs to each other, in Dhanur-asana. She is asking if he is feeling anything, and he is complaining about his cramps. She is visibly annoyed, telling him off for being unfit because he just doesn’t do Yoga anymore. But her pati-parmeshwar instincts kick in, and concerned for his bent spine, she leaves the room to find a pain relief spray, leaving him tied up as he gets an office call, which he tries to take but falls off the bed. A few episodes later, they try role-playing DDLJ, but he calls her Sarita instead of Senorita. Bicchoo Ka Khel is too much fun.
9 episodes, a byte-sized length of 20 mins each, the story, based on a Amit Khan’s namesake novel, follows one murder after another, each linked to each other in a convulated way that involves a corrupt development project that wants to make Benaras into Beijing, a homosexual lawyer who gets off by butting his cigarette on his hunky lover, and adulterous women (there are three main female characters in this series- all three, blouses blazing, lighting the cigarette of another man). It’s cheap, but it isn’t (too) offensive, it’s loud, but it isn’t (too) shrill, and most of all it’s dense, but never boring. It’s also, shockingly, un-erotic, with only one virginal kiss the whole time. With so much violence, I wondered why the restraint on sex then?
I use the word ‘dense’ because the plotline and the background score conspire to make every second packed with information or exposition- it’s the cinematic equivalent of claustrophobia. Your entire attention goes into following what the actual plot is, you don’t even have a second to sit back and ponder the ridiculousness of the whole damn thing. In a courtroom random people are exchanging evidence like vada-pav, and it’s all admissible. Blood bleeds like the Ganga the film is set on the banks of, and a man in the midst of a bullet-storm makes a red-chutney joke. It’s the kind of show where a loop-hole is a plot-point.
The show however belongs to Divyenndu who plays Akhil Shrivastava, with a Trishul tattooed under his right ear. He doesn’t look silly when he hams and doesn’t look out of place when he acts. It’s a coup! But I don’t get why he needed to be a writer in this show- he doesn’t do any writing, only making air castles of conspiracy theories, so wild, and so unbelievable, that in this universe, they must be true. His dialogues are over-ponderous, the kind that hopes to be quoted on T-shirts and screen-savers.
The story kicks off with his affectionate but lusting father (Mukul Chadda), with whom he shares an unseemly closeness- he sends his father off to palang-tod with a lover, with a condom, while waiting for him to finish. Akhil’s relationship with his engaged-to-someone-else lover, Rashmi (Anshul Chauhan) is quite cookie-cutter in its feistiness- the first we see of her she is smoking, and then refuses to let Akhil touch her when they are having sex- she must be in charge! It’s all been-there-done-that territory, but there is a nice affection that undergirds this rotten rowdyism.
I love it when ALT Balaji gets it right. By right, I don’t mean good, but I mean engaging. You can sense the urgency in the content here; it wants to swagger, never linger. It’s a feel-good low-budget masala genre. Feel-good because we have Divyenndu’s character as a constant narrator for the first half, and then pop up arbitrarily as a comforting voice-over in the second half that implies, in the end, all will be well. This is not gritty violence, it is gratuitous violence. But the good thing is, with its quick-flipping episodes and allegiance-flipping characters, it never overstays its welcome, or as Akhil Shrivastava would say in his honeyed words it never does aadar ka mother-father.