Director: Vijay Lalwani
Cast: Arjun Rampal, Javed Jaffrey, Sakshi Tanwar, Anupriya Goenka, Neeraj Kabi, Vipin Sharma
Streaming On: ZEE5
At some point, streaming platform ZEE5 will have to confront a truth that has long dawned upon (and haunted) those who watch their shows: Their ambition is admirable, but their vision is delusional. The Final Call, based on the book I Will Go With You by Priya Kumar, is a fine example of this illness. The ambition is to make a large-scale Indian action thriller that doesn’t involve spies and exotic locations. Their vision – of choosing to make a mid-air airplane thriller interspersed with multiple Lost-style character narratives – is completely out of sync with the expertise available. Why choose a visual plot that requires technical sophistication and CGI wizardry when the sensibilities at hand are more suited to, say, a B-grade chamber drama or a goofy nationalistic thriller? It’s bad enough to show us a plane swerving like an errant truck on a Haryana highway. But the physicality of this show is so half-assed, and the writing so juvenile, that I was almost pleasantly surprised to not hear any of the passengers refer to the pilot as the “driver”.
The first episode begins with a peek into the lives of a bunch of random characters in the run-up to their fateful flight. A paranoid Australian woman video-chats with her philandering boyfriend, who looks more like he is secretly planning a nuclear attack than juggling multiple romances. Neeraj Kabi is a pious Tamilian astrologer who speaks to his family members in a divine tone that suggests he has achieved nirvana in his pants. Javed Jaffrey is a billionaire with a ‘90s surname, Siddharth Singhania, who is going through an existential crisis and a divorce; he buys a company that was supposed to buy his, and walks out the door with the kind of serenity that suggests he knows he can’t be the weakest character in a series that stars Arjun Rampal. Rampal plays Karan Sachdeva, the captain of Skyline 502, a non-stop flight from Mumbai to Sydney. He looks drugged out of his skull, but Karan, we soon discover, is a psychologically unstable man who wants to kill himself on this flight rather than within the confines of his home. As a clue, in the taxi on his way to the airport, the driver jovially asks him about hijacking and terrorism and homicidal pilots. Rampal’s eyebrow flinches. He manages to smuggle some poison into the cockpit (which for some reason has no flight engineer), while the co-pilot is shown to be a casanova who is destined to die the second he hits on an air-hostess. Karan is so aggressively broody – not sure if Rampal can be anything else – that he bungles up his own suicide, endangers everyone and then becomes philosophical when the ATC, led by Kiran Mirza (Sakshi Tanwar), gets involved.
Meanwhile, the passengers are on their own trip, quite literally, unmoved by the fact that the plane is behaving weirdly and scheduled to make an emergency landing. This is the kind of setting in which everyone eavesdrops on everyone, there is no sense of personal space, and the astrologer being able to predict everyone’s immediate future is actually a plot point (only in India) in the series. Kiran and Karan’s backstories invade the laughably executed aeroplane setpieces. Their trajectories contain tragedy and army men who cannot operate without a stiff whiskey in hand. Rampal wears the expression of a roadrash video-game junkie, and at one point, makes a sharp right after threatening to collide into another plane. Everyone panics for a moment, but the next scene has them speaking as if they didn’t just fall out of their seats during a manoeuvre that might have prompted volumes of vomit to be sprayed onto the cabin walls. Worse, Karan speaks to his dead co-pilot (and in flashbacks, the photos of a dead family member) so that we understand exactly what he is thinking. Forget spoon-feeding, this is diaper-fastening stuff.
Only four episodes out of eight have been released so far. But they are more than enough to suggest that no matter how path-breaking the premise of the book might be (which I highly doubt), the form of its small-screen adaptation is too incompetent to lend credence to the actual story. I’ve seen ‘90s Flight Simulator softwares that are more emotionally aware because of how nobody speaks in them. There is no shame in aiming high. The problem, as with most ZEE5 productions, occurs when “high” stops being a figure of speech.