It is daddies’ day out in London Files. Dad-dee, the archetype of the salted, peppered sex appeal, sandpapered by a voice aged by time (and perhaps, cigarettes) is ripe here, with both Purab Kohli and Arjun Rampal — both, twink extraordinaires of the 2000s. Rampal plays Om, an investigator in London haunted by his teenage son’s rampage. In a haze of depression, his son gunned down students in his school and is now lying paralyzed in prison. Soon after, Om divorced. Soon after, his face hollowed. He goes to therapy, pops pills, vapes, gazes with an intense nothingness.
A case lands on his desk. Maya (Medha Rana), the daughter of an industrialist, the spiffy Amar Roy (Purab Kohli), is missing. Roy has been bankrolling a bill that would deport all the illegal immigrants in the UK, and so, the initial intuition is that some immigrant, in a retributive haze, kidnapped his daughter. The plot thickens when details unravel making Roy the prime suspect. But since this is an investigative show, so tightly wound around the conventions of the genre, the first suspect will never be the last suspect, and so the episodes — six, half-hour long — ebb and flow in this pendulum of blame. Like clockwork, towards the end, Om in a hot flush of doubt says, “This whole investigation is wrong.” Of course it was.
Om and Amar, styled at two ends of the grooming spectrum — Amar’s turtle necks, pants that suavely stop short of the ankles, and ankle socks make Om’s ill-fitting suits, baggy pants held together by a shabby belt, and badly tucked shirt all the more striking — are united in their struggle with fatherhood, both undone by its implications. Amar’s daughter, Maya, the typical progressive college kid, shares a fiery passion against her father’s anti-immigrant stance, and Om’s insistence on machismo might have undone his son.
Written by Prateek Payodhi, the show is set up with an eye for moral bleakness, a promise of British silhouettes and ethical ambiguity. The people fighting for the rights of immigrants are a cultish flock — headed by Gopal Dutt, whose dialogues inflected with sharp-edged Hindi seem to be his calling card. Similarly, the people pushing immigrants out are not the stock cut-outs of evil we thought they were.
This is the kind of storytelling that, for the most part, is not worried about the moral implications of its political positions.
Director Sachin Pathak did a similar twist of the moral compass with his previous outing Kathmandu Connections on SonyLIV. There, the hero, the one saving the nation from threats, both internal and external, is flipped into a villain. This is the kind of storytelling that, for the most part, is not worried about the moral implications of its political positions.
However, when the show swerves its attention from being a portrait of a father haunted by his son — the kind of person who needs to rehearse his smile in the mirror, the kind who stares in rapture at a painting, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog by artist Caspar David Friedrich — to the cult that somehow catalyzes people with silly chants that mean nothing but are performed as though they are of primal spiritual import (“Only after internal chaos comes internal silence”), any semblance of steam, substance, or subtlety evaporates. The investigation fumbles in the background.
In a scene, the followers of the cult stare at a mirror, speak grave-nothings about their life and upbringing at it, and smash the mirror to the ground as a sign of letting go of their past. The weight of the scene should have come from the conviction with which the recruits speak and shatter their past. Think of the mirror in Delhi 6. But conviction comes from empathy, an acknowledgment of the private wars each one is waging. By completely casting the recruits as brainwashed junk, this scene and the show completely spins off its emotional axis, resembling a dry retelling of the good versus evil template. Even if evil is driven by good intentions — to get rid of the bill that would deport the illegal immigrants. Even if the good are burnished by a xenophobic pride. Here, goodness and badness has nothing to do with one’s political beliefs. Instead, it is suffering that makes one right. Both daddies suffer. Both daddies stumble. Thus, both strike at the heart of this show that cares for little else.