Paatal Lok is an intense, grounded, compelling, and in some ways, pathbreaking attempt to showcase the workings of India’s dark underbelly.
‘A man who loves dogs is a good man.’ Even the hellraisers of the netherworld are redeemed by their love for the canine.
This outstanding series, coming after a surfeit of pedestrian Hindi shows, is a dark exploration of the systemic and amoebic relationship between television news, politics, police and the investigating agency.
Set in the badlands of Bundelkhand and Outer East Delhi, it’s a riveting expose of how insidiously this well-oiled machinery works and how every part knows and plays its role to keep it rolling. It’s an ecosystem of the afterworld. Its infernal fires rage and burn to cinders the vestiges of truth, justice, decency and humanity. After all, when in Paatal Lok, you play by its diabolical rules.
Does the micro mirror the macro, that’s a question the series provokes to ask! It’s that heartless area in between grey and black and the stripes therein allow no light to escape.
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However, in this bleak, remorseless and unprepossessing scenario, three brilliant streams of light break through and illuminate the small screen:
First: The script is taut and gets it right. The Bundelkhandi dialect, the right twists and turns, the almost perfect intensity and a plot that’s not necessarily grand but rooted in everyday politics of regional India. Full marks to the gifted quartet of scriptwriters: Sudip Sharma, Sagar Haveli, Gunjit Chopra and Hardik Mehta. The script is the real star for me. Interestingly, though the basic storyline of this neo-noir drama is inspired by Tarun Tejpal’s underrated 2009 novel, The Story of My Assassins, the scriptwriters built on it and added more strands to its hydra-headed plot.
Second: Jaideep Ahlawat is heaven-sent to Paatal for this role of a lifetime. As a lowly cop, an underachiever who gets an opportunity to exorcise the ghost of his father and redeem himself in the eyes of his son, he is in absolute control of his performance right through and doesn’t overact or overemote in moments of loss or triumph. Class act and I have no doubt that we will see more of this talented actor. Neeraj Kabi is equally brilliant and essays his part with restraint.
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Third: What is truly remarkable is that all characters, even minor ones, in this series leave an impact and bring a certain gravitas to their roles. Be it a transwoman, a sports teacher, a local policeman, a gangster’s sidekick, a pregnant dog et al. All actors perform their parts to perfection and the script does them justice.
Directed by Avinash Arun and Prosit Roy, the series could have been flawless but for the tardy pace in the first few episodes. I understand the need for context building but tighter editing and faster momentum would have worked wonders to the otherwise cogent narrative.
Created by Sudip Sharma and produced by Anushka Sharma, Paatal Lok is an intense, grounded, compelling, and in some ways, pathbreaking attempt to showcase the workings of India’s dark underbelly, festooned by a complex web of interdependencies of the various cogs in this unfeeling wheel of amorality.
Don’t miss it!
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Where to Watch: Amazon Prime
By Sanjay Trehan
Director: Avinash Arun, Prosit Roy
Cast: Jaideep Ahlawat, Neeraj Kabi, Gul Panag, Abhishek Banerjee
Writers: Sudip Sharma , Sagar Haveli, Hardik Mehta, Gunjit Chopra