On: Amazon Prime Video
creator: Sudip Sharma
Cast: Jaideep Ahlawat, Neeraj Kabi, Abhishek Banerjee
What’s a thriller, but a plot with so much at stake for characters involved, that by the time a movie’s budget hits max, the existence of the whole planet depends on it! In that sense, Paatal Lok (shouldn’t it be Pataal Lok?), appears aimed at quite a low-stakes game. A lot like Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai (2012; which in turn was based on Costa-Gavras’ Z), if you may. What was that about?
Murder of a local, bookseller/academic. What’s this about? A thwarted plot to assassinate a journalist. And, yet, the series has you by the eyeballs from the first frame itself wherein, as a show of hand for some quality writing, the creators spell out the ‘saar’ or base for the six hours’ plus that will follow.
The lead character, a Delhi Police beat-cop patiently explains how there are three worlds: Swarg lok (heaven, where Gods live), dharti lok (earth, for humans), and pataal lok (netherworld, where insects survive). His thana, in Outer Jamuna Park, poverty stricken outskirts of Delhi, decidedly belongs to pataal lok (as do, by association, most parts that have practically fallen off India’s map).
Basically, nobody cares who commits what crime in pataal lok. Lutyens’ Delhi, nation’s political capital, is swarg lok, yes; but what happens in heaven, stays in heaven — it’s useless for a cop to operate in. It’s the upper class colonies in Delhi — Vasant Vihar, Noida, etc — where the insects from pataal lok, on occasion, bite inhabitants of dharti lok, which then becomes kaand/scandal (Aarushi, Nithari, etc).
Cops earn their stripes for cracking these kaands/cases. As a loaded, descriptive opener for a film/series, I don’t know a better one since the ‘bewakoof-ch**iye-dhaage’ reference in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Omkara (2006).
When the intended target of an attack in this series meets his would-be assassins at the police station, he finds something primal in those eyes. The target, the married journalist, mentions this to a young colleague he meets at a bar later — right before he sets out to have sex with her. Nothing more primal than that either.
Serious man Neeraj Kabi (Ship of Theseus, Talvar) plays the hot-shot journalist. The show, I’m told, is based on former Tehelka editor Tarun Tejpal’s book The Story Of My Assassins, which I didn’t pick up from the store, mainly because the blurb on its cover by one of the lit-coterie writers, called it the “best Indian novel in English ever”!
Don’t know how much has been added, subtracted or altogether discarded from that source. Don’t think the book was credited on screen at all. Beyond text, what can’t be denied is the sheer cinematic quality of Paatal Lok, though — directed like a dream (Avinash Arun, Prosit Roy), shot like a nightmare (Avinash Arun, Sourabh Goswami) — just look at the production scale/design of this nine-episode, outdoor drama, hinged on location, location and location, and solid chase sequences thrown into each — whether in Chitrakoot, or Chandni Chowk!
The show’s been created by Sudip Sharma, whose writing credits include Navdeep Singh’s NH10, Lal Kaptaan, Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab, Sonchiriya — to give you a perfectly rugged, Middle India sense of where he’s coming from, or where we’re going.
Watch the trailer of Pataal Lok here”
Where we’re also circling around a lot is a deeply intricate story, spread over multiple characters, leading to several, separate sub-plots. Inevitably an issue with such a complex structure is you’ll like some of the stories and people in it, and really not care for some others.
Happened to me all through. Suspect will happen to you too. But you carry on, also because the performances keep you up — whether it’s the fresh, novice cop (Ishwak Singh), or the young journalist (Niharika Dutt), besides a full gang of moronic minions and conniving lords, hovering like moths on screen.
Towering above all, of course, is the leading man Jaideep Ahlawat as the foul-mouthed cop Hathi Ram Chowdhry — rock-hard, bohot hard — lugging this heavy show on his broad shoulders as his character soldiers on through hell and back. We’ve seen and admired Ahlawat in the past (Raazi, Raees, Lust Stories). But this is, in many ways, a debut of sorts — like it was for Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Gangs Of Wasseypur (2012).
Throughout he looks so feisty yet so completely weighed down. Does the series itself weigh down the viewer? Sure as hell. It’s titled Nether World, for God’s sake. It shines a torchlight on a dark India we often read about — you can see traces of so many reported cases, from Mathura ‘mob-lynching’, Ahmedabad ‘fake-encounter’, Jamia ‘terror cell’… It exposes the gutter, and leaves you feeling gutted too.
Because it humanises it all, while we prefer to read about the characters in this series as either statistics, or faceless groups — rag-pickers, gunmen, youth, etc. Perhaps essential to visually dissect human insects on a microscope sometimes. Paatal Lok does just that; beware.
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