Paatal Lok is a Amazon Prime Video’s answer to Netflix’s Sacred Games. Over nine episodes it unfolds an investigation of an arrested gang of four, accused of attempting to murder a high pitched TV Anchor. It releases, hot on the heels, of the real life Republic TV anchor, Arnab Goswami’s interrogation episode, couple of weeks ago. Paatal Lok, directed by Avinash Arun of Killa fame, has depth in characterization, intensity in plot and is extremely engaging. However I can’t help notice a few lopsided things. While it’s globally fashionable in the web-series platform to glorify the drug lord and the gangster, use sex and cuss words in abundance; amongst Indian web series makers, a certain paintbrush is helping drive a narrative.
Extreme portrayal of North India
It’s Delhi again, police brutality again, police callousness again, backbiting and poor investigation again, a hell called jail, beggar kids on train stealing and living on trash cans again, getting sodomized often, gory fights with heads cracked again, gang rapes subjected on the lower caste again, contract killers with a hammer, Muslims being humiliated, North East people being humiliated again, transgenders being humiliated again, Hinduism extremism in show again, Hindu godmen in crime again, mob lynching again, false statements from a government implicating ISI and Pakistan for every ice cream stolen again, a failed system in view, truth or justice not in sight, power play winning over justice again etc. There is a strong bias in this painting. Filled with cuss words and extremely gory scenes (specially Episodes 3,7), this neo noir series once again keeps reminding of an India all of us dread to visit, and to be fair, most of Amazon viewers are unlikely to tread. In modern narrative, this series is delicious fodder for in house liberals, international critics and Indians always on lookout for the first flight overseas. Ones who can’t comprehend that a creative product is not a representative of 1.4 billion population wide country.
If I can ignore the background of Paatal Lok, then in Jaideep Ahlawat’s frustation, Ishwak Singh’s freshness, Neeraj Kabi’s resolve and Abhishek Banerjee’s steely glare (he doesn’t speak a word till episode seven despite being the main villain), there is a lot to like about this web series from Anushka Sharma’s Clean Slate Films production. Each of the male characters are sketched in depth – including the inspector’s teen boy. You feel for all the leading men and your heart roots the most for the characters played by Ishwak Singh and Jaideep Ahlawat.
You know the balance is weak when only one junior Muslim cop has been shown a good human being and almost every other character is shown evil. The key investigating inspector from Delhi travelling on dilapidated overnight state buses or being bullied by one and sundry is tough to believe. In reality, an ordinary citizen trembles on both feet at the sight of a low ranking traffic cop approaching. Or media scoring over the cops frequently is in stark contrast to recent news – where celebrity anchor Arnab Goswami was locked, consecutive days, for extremely long interrogation hours.
The lead women have been wasted – completely misplaced in role, casting and content. Swastika Mukherjee’s anxiety pangs and Gul Panag’s insignificance (pray, why such a fine actress signed up for this) only help slow down pace of the proceedings. Then, a lot of the gore content could have been avoided… for eg. in episode seven a bus on the highway smashing a dog has little significance ..or some of the killings have graphics that would be tough to digest for even seasoned movie viewing adults.
– ‘Waise to yeh sab shashtron me likha hai, par maine Whatsapp me padha hai’
– ‘Aadhi zindagi mera baap socha ki main chutiya hun, ab baaki zindagi nahi paar sakta ki beta soche ki main chutiya hun’
– ‘Arrey inse kabhi seedha jawab mila hai? Brahman dev hain. Jalebi khaate hain, jalebi hagte hain aur jalebi jaise hi sochte hain’
– ‘Bahut dhoonda Chanda jee aapko, Vasco Da Gama bana diya aapne hamara’
IMDB Viewers Current Rating: 9.1/10 (This rating will fall subsequently, as the weeks go and more and more people watch it)