With an expansive OTT ecosystem inundated with web series every week, once in a blue moon, there comes a show that completely moves you with its fine storytelling, compelling characters, the vividness of churning out titillating scenarios with plentiful amounts of twists and turns, the treatment of risqué topics with sensitivity whilst not attenuating the entertainment factor and utilisation of technical know-hows in lieu with the story. Rajeev Barnwal and Sudhir Mishra’s thriller-drama Jehanabad – Of Love And War most deservingly fits in that category. Just like a two-edged sword, it educates you and hooks you to the rustic world of Jehanabad which is sullied by disparity and yet frothing with love in the most precarious of corners. Ritwik Bhowmik and Harshita Gaur form the soul of the show while Sudhir Mishra through his actors shouldered it forward with responsibility.
The story is set in a small town of Bihar, with two separate tracks playing out parallelly unbeknownst to one another. The first being that of Kasturi Mishra (played by Harshita Gaur), a simple but outspoken college-going student who gets smitten by her English Literature Professor Abhimanyu Singh (played by Ritwik Bhowmik) and pursues her love for him regardless of her mother’s objections. On the other hand, Abhimanyu is intelligent, quiet and reserved whose moral compass indicates his virtues of justice and honesty. Kasturi and Abhimanyu’s bond grows over the course of the first few episodes before it merges with the other plot.
The other story follows a contrasting and serious trajectory. Jehanabad is a place infested with caste polarisation amid a political upheaval brought about by two politicians one in power and the other one campaigning for it. The atmosphere of the town is further aggravated by Deepak Kumar (played by Parambrata Chattopadhyay), a revolutionary left militant that is awaiting his trial at the Jehanabad jail under the supervision of SP Durgesh Pratap Singh(played by Satyadeep Mishra). With this plot cemented in its place, there is an overarching theme of a network of Naxalites headed by Jagmohan Kumar (played by Suneel Sinha), a pedantic Ph.D in chemistry desperate to break Deepak out of jail. To achieve that, he hatches a well-structured and methodical plan with the help of his comrades and sets in motion a devious chain of events that later confluence with the first story and what we get as an audience is the unexpected concoction of betrayal, anarchy and innocence.
With Jehanabad - Of Love And War, Sudhir Mishra got the pace right-something that glaringly lacked in his last show Tanaav. There is a steadiness between the two universes running on coextensive tangents. Without being unfair to either one of them, the makers have rightfully given space to all the sub-plots and they haven’t watered down the perplexity of the narrative. They astutely maintain the consistency which eventually leads to the big reveal. The unpredictability of the characters and situations comes as a fresh surprise essentially when the majority of the web series these days have become redundant and commonplace. Another outstanding facet of Jehanabad is that while it addresses caste politics and acquaint you to a precise outlook of the Indian milieu at the grassroots level, it doesn’t force an ideology onto you or assert anything other than an unsettling sensation of pathos imbued in it’s style of narration. The screenplay is clever and realistic and the dialogues add weight to it all.
Jehanabad also delivers with its vast musical playlist that mimics the songs of the 2004-2005 era, very much like Ustad Sultan Khan and K.S Chitra’s song Piya Basanti Re. For example, O Piya which has flavours of Raag Yaman has been rendered in a semi-bandish style. Kahin Kuch Toota Hoga is a tear-jerker and has a similar old-school vibe to it with minimal arrangements. Laal Salaam is a spunky track with invigorating qualities. Throw in Fall In Love and you get a mellow English love ballad in the genre of modern blues. Then there are two wedding folk numbers enriched with the cultural repertoire of Bihar. Aaj Siyaji Ke Ubtan Lagau that is picturized eloquently during the Haldi ceremony and Ghumdat Aave which borrows a familiar traditional Sumangali tune. Credit goes to Sujeet Shetty and Sumanta Das
Meanwhile, the performances by all the actors are top-notch. There is an ease in the way Ritwik Bhowmik acts and he has certainly evolved as an actor from his stint in Bandish Bandits. He delivered his parts well in consonance with Harshita Gaur who brought the best out of him. Their chemistry and on-screen love story is the best part of Jehanabad. Even with all the different chaotic plot points emerging out with every episode, you would root for their love to conquer all. It’s organic and gradually develops into something worth cherishing. Harshita Gaur essays a role that was tailor made for her. While it may seem like she is playing an extension of her character from Mirzapur, there are more dimensions to her acting and her affable character.
Sonal Jha, Rajesh Jais and Suneel Sinha are another set of talented actors that made Jehanabad a great watch. Their performances were as natural and freewheeling as one could imagine. Rajat Kapoor is inherently one of the best actors in the country but the individual he played, despite him essaying it with conviction, he didn’t quite fit with the character that was assigned to him. Perhaps, we are more accustomed to seeing him in more urban roles but either way it still was refreshing to see him attempting something new. Parambrata Chattopadhyay as Deepak and Satyadeep Misra as Durgesh Pratap Singh pack an impactful punch with their acting.
In the end, Jehanabad- Of Love And War is an expeditiously paced show. Barring one big plot hole in one of its episodes that defied all the logic and an unimpressive and dull note on which the show concludes, Rajiv Barnwal’s directorial andstory is packaged neatly and has a unique tale to tell. Right from actors to screenplay, music to direction, the show is thorough throughout. And it emboldens a different kind of storytelling that doesn’t rely on stereotypes.
Jehanabad- Of Love And War is now streaming on SonyLiv App.
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