Web series: Paatal Lok
Directors: Avinash Arun and Prosit Roy
Cast: Jaideep Ahlawat, Neeraj Kabi, Abhishek Banerjee, Gul Panag
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
Stars: 3.5 out of 5
It isn’t an easy watch, but the dark and disturbing cop thriller ‘Paatal Lok’ reels you in with its warped, wicked appeal. The violence will make you wince and its unwillingness to sanitise India or gloss over its deep caste, class and religious divides strike where it hurts.
The picture is never pretty, but ‘Pataal Lok’ — which means netherworld — has this irresistible, gravitational pull that forces you to look at the bigger picture.
The nine-episode web series on Amazon Prime, starring actor Jaideep Ahlawat as a jaded Delhi cop tasked with investigating a foiled assassination attempt on celebrity news anchor Sanjeev Mehra, played efficiently by Neeraj Kabi, is a perfect antidote to the Bollywood’s indestructible, all-conquering cop.
Inspector Hathi Ram Chaudhary, who is the central force of this series, is not cheeky or adorable like Salman Khan in the hit ‘Dabangg’ series. He’s pot-bellied, diffident and just like his nondescript, glamour-shorn name, Ahlawat has made peace with his mediocre, middle-class existence. His routine is shaken up when he is suddenly tasked to solve and handle a high-profile case involving four criminals in an assassination bid.
Ahlawat is splendid as this ageing, down-on-his-luck cop who is eager to prove his worth to himself and those around him. The investigation leads him into some murky territories and spaces where casteism, child abuse, religious fundamentalism and criminals roam freely. The series highlights the urban-rural divide in India with a commanding finesse. It’s not just the unassuming hero that shines in this series, the clutch of anti-heroes with violent pasts are riveting too.
Actor Abhishek Banejree as the hammer-wielding henchman/serial killer ‘Hathoda Tyagi’ nails the brutal act. His dead eyes, devoid of conscience and morality, is piercing and he stays in character right till the very end.
Be warned, the series created and co-written ably by Sudip Sharma and directed by Avinash Arun and Prosit Roy, isn’t for the faint-hearted. The graphic physical violence against children and women may be unsettling and hard to watch, but that shouldn’t stop you from giving this series a shot.
The adage, ‘The God/Devil is in the details’ stands true for ‘Paatal Lok’. The series is impressive in the way in which it pours it attentions to all its characters and anti-heroes. The four criminals who are hired to kill a celebrated TV anchor and journalist have interesting back stories.
While some of the twists may be convoluted and unnecessarily complicated, ‘Paatal Lok’ isn’t a hellish ride. It’s a lot more darker than the relatively suave ‘Sacred Games’, Saif Ali Khan’s stellar web series debut on Netflix and more grittier than Manoj Bajpayee’s cop drama ‘Family Man’. ‘Paatal Lok’, co-produced and backed by Bollywood actress Anushka Sharma’s Clean Slate Films, is what you get if these two series had an unholy union and conceived a rogue, demonic love child.
The true hero of this series is seasoned actor Ahlawat who brings a mix of vulnerability and quiet resilience to his role. Acting as his perfect foil are actors including Ishwak Singh as the Muslim minority cop Ansari and Niharika Lyra Dutt as the ambitious, career-minded journalist Sara Matthews.
Actor Neeraj Kaabi is wonderfully smarmy as this veteran journalist who can be narcissistic and generous with equal fervour and depth. While ‘Paatal Lok’ is mostly a testosterone-charged thriller, the women including Gul Panag and Swastika Mukherjee are impactful in there roles.
The undercurrent of macabre wit and sarcasm — even in its darkest moments — is a testament to the sharp writing skills of Sudip Sharma, Sagar Haveli, Hardik Mehta and Gunjit Chopra. A telling scene arrives towards the climax when the triumphant Ahlawat solves the case and superciliously explains it to his detractor.
While it isn’t recommended to watch the nine episodes in one go, there’s no ignoring the sinister pull of this series that revels in its dark and gloomy moments. Redemption and happy endings aren’t for sale in the highly watchable and engaging series ‘Paatal Lok’.