Director: Ashish R Shukla
Writer: Mohinder Pratap Singh, Sidharth Sengupta, Varun Badola
Cast: Dibyendu Bhattacharya, Harsh Chhaya, Surya Sharma, Ankur Rathee, Anchal Singh, Abhishek Chauhan, Apeksha Porwal
Cinematographer: Murzy Pagdiwala
Editor: Rajesh Pandey
Producer: Sameer Nair, Deepak Segal, Jyoti Sagar, Sidharth Sengupta
Streaming Platform: SonyLIV
A marriage in Manali is cursed when the father of the groom shoots one of the dancers at the stag party in a drunken, unapologetic haze. This dancer is one of two who escaped the Sunderbans; they’re tribal girls who are being hounded by the Bengali police for murdering a policeman. They are routinely called ‘Naxals’. A Bengali DSP, Barun Ghosh (a restrained Dibyendu Bhattacharya) is sent to Manali to get the girls back, and instead embroils himself in the stag party shootout that is being covered up by the influential gun-toting family. There are also amateur Christopher Nolans parading as wedding videographers, one of whom (the timid Abhishek Chauhan) catches the shootout on his camera, and decides to seek justice.
As you might have guessed, as a frame, it is excessively crowded, so the writers decided to do away with character development. Good people remain good, bad remain bad, and the dutiful toe the line. The few who have a change of heart, are written with impatience, and the transition is sudden, and thus questionable. In the midst is the marriage of American educated Daman (a flat Ankur Rathee, whose clueless gaze reminds me of his performance in Four More Shots Please!, where every emotion needs to be registered on the face, and so the character is allowed to feel only one emotion at a time) and vegan Teji (a stoic Anchal Singh), the plot swerves with radical coincidence. Things happen that just wouldn’t make sense in a more naturalistic style of writing which I feel this story would have benefited from. The performance in crafting these situations, thankfully don’t reflect in the performances of the actors, which, for the most part, is quite contained.
The two girls who escape the Sunderbans (the one alive is played by Apeksha Porwal, who despite the inconsistent Bengali accent has a piercing screen presence) become a pawn in a vicious game of power and recompense. Surya Sharma plays Rinku, the fixer of the family. Somewhat similar to Sikander Kher’s character in Aarya, where duty is morality, and everything else, a peripheral distraction, here his heavy mustache that must be propped up by keeping his mouth bloated is given a more negative shade- perhaps because he also lusts, perhaps because he is obviously well-to-do, and perhaps his violence is uncloaked compared to Sikander’s silent pining and bullets.
While the episodes are plotted well, and the goings-on is engaging, the chaos of the story never allows for commentary. It feels like the writers decided to make an unanchored story of violence and entitlement (to land, to love, and to bodies) without really getting their hands dirty. And perhaps this is to be safe, to not place institutions and identities, like the police and the naxals, in absolute categories of good and bad. While that is an understandable reason, the inability to give any of these identities a definitive ending, and leaving them and their destiny to a probable second season, makes the storytelling flat, and disposable. Besides, as a film-maker you lost out on creating a memorable, gripping moment of climax.
The ending here is an unfulfilling cliffhanger, and I am a bit tired of seeing this become the norm. The primary function of storytelling is catharsis, and if you are unwilling to provide that, you are doing a disservice to the act of storytelling. This is not to say that we must do away with cliffhangers, for there is an art in creating a cliffhanger too, where at least some semblance of closure is given, without it looking like writers have just abruptly lost interest in the story they were telling.