If ever a tutorial or a guidebook had to be written about how to make a successful, engaging web show, then your answer lies in ‘Paatal Lok’. Created and written by Sudip Sharma of ‘NH10’, ‘Udta Punjab’ and ‘Sonchiriya’ fame alongwith Gunjit Chopra, Hardik Mehta and Sagar Haveli, it does not come as a surprise that the imagery in ‘Paatal Lok’ is eerily similar to the landscapes witnessed in the mentioned three films. But you can’t help but tip-off your hat to how informed and aware should the team of writers be in order to source their influences from the Indian hinterland and bring them to light on paper.
‘Paatal Lok’ isn’t a mere crime thriller. It’s a visceral, haunting narrative that digs deeply into the ugly trappings of a depraved system that dictates and determines lives.
Hathi Ram Chaudhary (Jaideep Ahlawat), Inspector at Outer Jamuna Par police station, is tasked with investigating a once-in-a-lifetime case involving the nabbing of four suspects behind the attempted murder of a celebrated, prime-time news anchor Sanjeev Mehra (Neeraj Kabi). Chaudhary lacks respect at home and at work. This case is an opportunity for him to change a lot of things in his favour. But as he digs deeper into the case, he realizes that he might just be a pawn in a long-drawn game between the bad and the worst. Will he make a breakthrough?
Directed by Prosit Roy and Avinash Arun Dhaware, the 9-episode long series is a primeval commentary on the immoralities of our social stature. With ‘NH10’ and ‘Laal Kaptaan’ director Navdeep Singh credited as the script consultant, the detailing of hinterland politics and ideologies in the show is on point. The cinematography by Dhaware and Saurabh Goswami, backed by Mukund Gupta’s production design, Naren Chandavarkar and Benedict Taylor’s background score and Maria Tharakan and Kirti Kolwankar’s costume design add authenticity to the narrative. There are multiple themes and backdrops that need to be held together without digressing from the larger narrative and it’s a commendable feat pulled off by editor Sanyukta Raza. From inter-caste rivalries, Islamophobia, parent-child dynamics, child abuse, alternative sexualities, the evolving responsibilities of the media, animal love and mythology, the show packs in a handful without letting you lose interest even for a second. There is no subtlety in ‘Paatal Lok’ though. The screenplay weaves in many disturbingly, graphic visuals equipped with Vinit D’Souza’s sound design that will leave you shell-shocked.
‘Paatal Lok’ brings together a fine ensemble of actors, each cast to perfection. Leading them is Ahlawat and Kabi. Ahlawat has been in films since a decade but viewers are now familiar to his acting credentials since the last few years. As Hathi Ram, Ahlawat pulls all stops to deliver a sincere and effective performance as the righteous cop. Kabi, who has acquired a massive visibility within the digital realm, is slick and conniving as the most important voice in the media fraternity. Gul Panag and Swastika Mukherjee as Renu and Dolly, the wives of the leading men add strength and grace to their parts. Niharica Lyra Dutt as the journalist Sara Matthews and Ishwak Singh as Hathi Ram’s sub-ordinate Ansari bring in the vivacity and vulnerability of the young and restless. But it’s the four suspects played by Abhishek Banerjee, Punjabi film actor Jagjeet Singh, Asif Khan and Mairembam Ronaldo Singh that leave a lasting impression. Especially Banerjee as the abhorred criminal Vishal Tyagi aka Hathoda Tyagi. His face conceals a murderous grief that will leave you on tenterhooks, each time the camera pans out on him.
‘Paatal Lok’ is an impressive digital debut for Anushka Sharma and her banner Clean Slate Films. It speaks highly about their vision to put out stories that are high on content and entertainment. Glue in now and start streaming. You don’t want to miss this.