Director: Nikhil Rao
Writer: Nikhil Rao, Emil Thoms, Nishant Goyal
Cinematographer: K U Mohanan, John J Payyapalli
Editor: Shivkumar Panicker
Cast: Akshay Oberoi, Ranvir Shorey, Mrinmayee Godbole, Shweta Basu Prasad
Producer: Mehala Krishnaswamy, Akshay Uchil
Streaming Platform: MX Player
High is full of gangsters- the drug peddling ones, the corporate ones, and the political ones- trying to throttle a special drug, and kill its makers. The drug, called Magic, made from a plant found in the mountains, is #Swadeshi- Made In India. The interesting thing about this drug is that it prevents addiction. Shiv (Akshay Oberoi), a drug addict who finds himself in rehab, takes one snort of Magic, and he is transported to an Art Of Living ad, breathing in fine, crisp air, the grass is green, and the sun shines on his back.
When the drug wears off and he is brought back to the grime of his life, he now realizes he is cured of addiction! Such is Magic. Such is also the shoddy depiction of addiction. But to be fair, the show is not about addiction. It’s MX Player humdrum masala with drugs and thugs, a cat and mouse game that spans 9 episodes, 40 minutes each, that uses drugs as a trampoline to bounce its narrative.
The drug mafia- Jimmy (Madhur Mittal), Munna (Kunal Naik), and Ghulam Bhai, in ascending order of power- are confounded by how their imported maal is no longer selling; everyone instead wants a piece, or a line, of desi Magic. (“Coke’s dead, love,” a character proclaims.) The mafia is thus after the drug, its recipe, and the scientists making the drug- Dr. Shweta (Shweta Basu Prasad), Dr. Nakul (Nakul Bhalla), and Dr. Sridhar Roy (Prakash Belawadi).
A pharmaceutical company on the other hand wants the drug erased. If it can cure addiction, then perhaps, no one will buy their drugs. So they send a hitman, Laakda (Ranvir Shorey) after the scientists. Wam-bam-sham this man just shoots people with full immunity and zero fear, you would think the series is set in a lawless land.
[T]he plot swerves into the familiar territory of gun-gaand-gunda. There’s clearly an audience for this trope, but I tired easily. It isn’t awful, it isn’t even boring. It’s just ordinary…
Then there is a journalist, Ashima Chauhan (Mrinmayee Godbole), who after reporting on the death-in-a-bathtub of a celebrity with a prop of a bathtub with blood in it, feels disgusted with herself, and seeks solace and purpose in reporting on Magic. As you can imagine, this show is full of situations that make you grit your teeth, and characters you just want to punch for their unjust, obnoxious, and violent behaviour.
In the midst of this chaos, the three altruistic doctors, who don’t want the drugs to fall into the wrong hands, start illegally dealing it, so that it reaches the addicts. This is when shit hits the fan, with the drug-peddlers, the pharma cartel, and the politicians working hand in glove with them, all triggered into bloodshed.
At first glance, this universe is ambitiously, and untenably populated. There are boardrooms, newsrooms, gangster dens, college reunions, and in the midst of this are drugs and kinks- Munna loves to have sex with a leopard print dog leash tightly wound around his neck. I say untenably populated, because going by MX Player’s record, I had a feeling this series too would be left unfinished, without a cathartic end to any of the dozen plotlines racing through it. I was right.
To the credit of the show, it begins with a languorous take on addiction, I almost didn’t recognize Oberoi as Shiv, in his long unkempt hair, sagging skin, and a stoop. But then the plot swerves into the familiar territory of gun-gaand-gunda. There’s clearly an audience for this trope, but I tired easily. It isn’t awful, it isn’t even boring. It’s just ordinary- with enough plot twists bunged in to make the viewer forget to ask the important questions.
As a side note, I am a little worried about the posturing of the show, given the context it is releasing in, and its reach. (MX Player’s previous release, Aashram despite its odd messaging raked in 4.8 million views on the site.) People now seem to incorrectly speak of marijuana, cocaine, and LSD interchangeably. They are unable to differentiate between recreational and addictive drug usage. (Even our laws, the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act doesn’t do this, unfortunately) They seem to think that addiction, like fever, can be surely cured with medication and meditation, just like that. High, while entirely fictitious, plays into that narrative. It is very easy to read this show as a vindication of one’s ignorance. At one point a character who was roiling with addiction for 11 years just gives up drugs after one whiff of Magic. 11 years of drugs, all undone by one line of a drug from a plant, in a mountainous jungle, called the Ghost Of Madumalai- Marithima Nefrulia. Even its name sounds like a sham.