Director: Sajit Warrior
Writer: Karan Shah, Chaitanya Chopra, Kailash Surendranath (Based on Anti-social Network: An Inspector Vikrar Crime Thriller by Piyush Jha.)
Cast: Prateik Babbar, Simran Kaur Mundi, Ashish Vidyarthi, Shiv Panditt, Gopal Datt, Ruhii Dipil Singh,
Producer: Sameer Nair, Deepak Segal, Kailash Surendranath, Aarti Gupta Surendranath
Cinematographer: Hari K Vedantam
Editor: Bhupesh Micky Sharma
Five minutes into Chakravyuh, Pateik Babbar is introduced as Inspector Veerkar who guns down child rapists in a shootout shown through the perspective of his body-cam. Three minutes later he is shirtless, sleeping on a Koli fishing vessel out at sea, his ripped contours lit by night lamps on the boat as the city far away glimmers—Inspector Veeru is distraught at the violent world, and muses with his exposed abs.
Elsewhere, to make him take his shirt off, the plot coughs up a college counselor for a badly choreographed sex scene that plays out to bored filler music with conventional tiring rehguzar-bekhabar-humsafar lyrics. They even have a killer attack him in post-coital sleep so he can fight in his black briefs, without context. Even when a shirt is put on him, it’s so tightly wound up, like his personality, the buttons are a muscle flex from popping open.
Babbar’s deep low baritone is consistently trying to Bruce Wayne itself into the cool-beans category. But Wayne’s low baritone is a facade; he doesn’t speak like this when he’s a cape-less human. It’s robotic at best. Babbar’s seductions, screams, and strife all sound the same, and this isn’t helped by his smooth face that registers shock and anger in the same way.
The 8-part show is a revenge drama centered around consent—the loss of consent in the act of sex, during date-rape, and the loss of consent in the act of recording the rape, and the tape being later used for extortion. The show begins with a penis-slashing murder, and it is made to look like a woman is taking revenge for being raped and recorded. The girl in question is Sagarika, and the scenes before the opening credits in each episode establish her backstory. Soon it becomes clear that the story is more convoluted, with subsequent murders where fingers and eyes are gouged out. Sagarika is perhaps dead. This usage of rape to create a story that has nothing to do with rape or women or the systemic conditions of violence is dated and has a very audience-facing quality to it. The kind of stories which exist not because of artistic expression but commercial conceits—people like seeing violence and crime and rape and resolution, and so we give it to them wrapped in lace.
The investigation is happening parallel to the setting up of the crime world here, involving date-rape drugs used to lure women into the bed, and a kingpin named Axeman who collects these sex-tapes to extort the women out of their money and sense of dignity. There is also cryptocurrency which is used as a means of transaction. I think this might be the first show in India to use cryptocurrency as a plot-point. To top it off there is a forensic doctor whose sole personality trait is eating pizza. He eats the crusty carbs topped with tomato sauce while walking through and cutting open crime scene bodies. But lest the show provide one more unnecessary detail, the plot even uses this pizza in a pivotal moment. Nothing in this show goes to narrative waste, it’s an exercise in economy. Bad economy, but economy, nonetheless.
The over-plotted mess is slowly ironed out by the ethical hackers, and this is where the story’s tell-don’t-show gets grating. A hacker is a convenient narrative device to both make the plot as twisty and unbelievable. But then to have the same hacker explain to us and the characters in the series what these twisty unbelievable plot points are, is a bit too much. The show loses steam as the conversations get more expository and the twists get more and more branched out, till it resembles a rotten banyan tree—too dead to be nurtured into something better, too leathery to be of any aesthetic appeal, but leafy enough for one to want to rake through the disaster to make sense of it.