Cast: Neeraj Kabi, Jaideep Ahlawat, Abhishek Banerjee
Creator: Sudip Sharma
Crime thriller genre has really caught up with the showrunners on the Indian OTT platforms, and Amazon Prime Video’s latest show Pataal Lok has just made it a better choice. Established in the bylanes of Delhi and explored in the ravines of Bundelkhand, Pataal Lok dissects the world of heinous crimes with surgical precision. You don’t know whether to hate these criminals or give them the benefit of doubt as they casually go about their victims.
While shows like Sacred Games and Mirzapur relied on sudden chills, Paatal Lok is more about going inside the criminal’s mind without attributing superhuman qualities to them. Though Sacred Games was also from a cop’s perspective, Paatal Lok’s Hathiram Chaudhary (Jaideep Ahlawat) is different in a way that he doesn’t have resources like Sartaj, and unlike Sartaj, he is not at all clued in about the larger conspiracy he has unknowingly been a part of. To be honest, the only driving force Chaudhary has is his curiosity, which the makers cheekily equates with a cat’s.
There is a top news anchor Sanjeev Mehra (Neeraj Kabi) hobnobbing with the corrupt and shady with a weird conviction of being righteous. Kabi, in his usual nuanced ways, makes you confused about his real character. The self-obsessed newsman is in for a shock when he discovers that he is the target of some assassins.
While seizing the opportunity for more TRPs, he slowly starts getting a hang of the situation, and what he finds out, simply robs him of sleep.
Creator Sudip Sharma’s show is unlike other Indian shows that make us happy with expected twists and usual progression. Paatal Lok goes beyond the obvious, and that’s where it shines.
Directed by Avinash Arun (Killa) and Prosit Roy (Pari), Paatal Lok’s strength lies in its detailing. ‘Jamna Paar’ area in Delhi, where it begins, has many layers of crimes and corruption. There’s a huge disparity between the Lutyens’ zone and trance Yamuna, and the show brings out many aspects of it through Ahlawat’s typical Delhi cop, down but not dusted.
Paatal Lok comes to its own with the backstories of its criminals. Abhishek Bannerjee’s Hathaura Tyagi (as hammer is his weapon of choice) could find a reflection in thousands of misguided youth who never knew any better. Though Bannerjee has played negative characters in shows such as Mirzapur and Typewriter, but his terrifying intensity and odd beliefs make this one to watch out for. It’s definitely a ground breaking role for him.
The writers have consciously kept Delhi mostly as a city of migrants from smaller towns in the Hindi belt. When harsh surroundings get better of them, they turn to crime for survival, and all this seems neutral and natural. For example, the two kids who meet on a train and remain there for each other through thick and thin, is a case study in itself. The casual attitude with which they see through sexual and mental abuses breaks heart.
Then there’s a Dalit boy from Punjab who would see Delhi’s underworld as an escape from his lived reality. What worse could happen!
It keeps getting darker and more vocal with an almost failed cop struggling to quench his thirst for more. It may also remind you of Navdeep Singh’s terrific Manorama Six Feet Under, where it kept getting bigger and more local. The show doesn’t look outside to seek answers, but tracks the footprints of its characters through an inward journey.
Even not so prominent characters like Swastika Mukherjee’s Dolly and Gul Panag’s Renu leave significant impact on the story. They keep adding new dimensions to Hathiram Chaudhary’s evolution. In fact, Panag’s excellent understanding of human behaviour comes to the fore when she confronts her brother for using her. No extra drama, but painfully penetrating.
Coming back to Jaideep Ahlawat, this is the role of a lifetime for him. His expressions don’t drop for a second even if he is chasing a goon with a duffle bag on his shoulders. He is the binding force to assemble all the clues and cues at one place. He takes the center stage only after the fifth episode, but once he does it, he absolutely nails it. It’s difficult to think anybody else in the character after Ahlawat. Top notch.
Paatal Lok is a reminder of the futility of our existence and that makes me sad, but as the coronavirus is teaching us, we might have to live within the bubble as it seems safe, at least for the time being. Binge Paatal Lok, it will help you survive.
Interact with Rohit Vats at Twitter/@nawabjha