Mythology, is some way or the other, is connected to facts. Perhaps, distorted facts. Some say mythology was the brainchild of the sages. For a layman, it was far more difficult to understand the intricacies of life, so mythology became the medium to have it laid bare. Using stories, the sages would teach them the true meanings of life. The unsuspecting common man used to trust these blindfolded. Over centuries, the significance got lost, but the blind following remained as is. With the turn of the new century, mankind finally started to realise their follies. They finally understood the true meaning of the myths. It wasn’t the gods who were writing their fates. In reality, there is no fate but what we make for ourselves. Even Newton agrees to it. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Each of these actions, chart a path out to nowhere, creating innumerable counter actions on their way out. And for those actions or acts of karma, there is no separate heaven or hell. Whatever is, it’s here only. Amazon Prime Original show ‘Paatal Lok’ is about dynamics of power, politics, casteism, religion, corruption, oppression, poverty, devotion and love. But more than all of this, it’s a sheer replica of the times that we live in.
A foiled assassination attempt on a celebrated journalist opens up a labyrinth of secrets, where old skeletons tumble out from the closet. An inept police officer is assigned this case, who initially goes by the book for the investigation but soon he also realises that not all seems clean, in this seemingly straight forward case. As his investigation progresses, his perspective towards the people involved keep changing. In a country like ours, where language and culture changes at every 500 km, the line between fair and unfair also gets blurred. The officer, battling his own demons, goes through a lot but eventually uncovers the truth. What he finds out, makes him lose his trust over the whole establishment. A war lost but perspective gained.
Shot across nine episodes, mirroring Dante’s nine circles of hell, ‘Paatal Lok’ begins on a monologue of Inspector Hathi Ram Choudhury that the world is split into three worlds – Swarg Lok (Heaven)- where the gods live who remain inaccessible, Dharti Lok (Earth) – where the mortal live and suffer and finally Paatal Lok (Hell) – infested by insects of the netherworld. In Hathi Ram’s world, he is a resident of the Dharti Lok, who remains in awe of people like journalist Sanjeev Mehra, living in the upper echelons of the society – Swarg Lok. Hathi Ram envies Sanjeev for the successful man he is. So naturally, for him, criminals like Hathoda Tyagi, Tope Singh, Kabir M and Mary aka Cheeni are the insects. Over time, he realises that men are the servants of their own action. Each of the so-called assailants of Sanjeev Mehra has a fascinating backstory that tells a little more about the person that they once were. Collectively the victims of casteism, politics, religion, poverty, racism and gender oppression, each of these characters remind Hathi Ram, the futility of being a human in this country. Amidst all this, Hathi Ram is constantly battling the demons in his own headspace. A bad husband, an ever poor father in his son’s eyes, he just wants to make things right, by solving this case. Being labelled as an asshole throughout his life, he does not want to see his son going the same route that he went. His relationship with his son and his subordinate Ansari are the ones to watch out for.
The heroes and the villains of this web series are its writers. Heroes, because one needs to have a substantial amount of understanding the idiosyncrasies revolving around a country like India. Villains, because misrepresentation about almost anything is going to bite back hard. The writers’ team led by Sudip Sharma, Sagar Haveli, Hardik Mehta and Gunjit Chopra have done extensive research on the rural politics and feudalisms, the effects of casteism and how power plays out its part on it. The series also highlights the effect on media and its inadvertent role to play the judge, jury and executioner on almost everything. The writers use violence as a medium to showcase as well as justify the brutality of the circumstances. Eventually when the climax dawns upon, as an audience, one may feel a little cheated. A grand revelation of schemes ends up to be looking rather lame. But then again, does the art imitate life so much so that as an audience, I don’t see anything new in the mighty being the oppressor and the poor becoming the victim?
A powerful ensemble cast does the trick for ‘Paatal Lok’. Jaideep Ahlawat as Hathi Ram and Abhishek Banerjee as Hathoda Tyagi are the scene stealers with their respective power-packed performance. Jaideep runs the show on his able shoulders. A fantastic actor, he owns the screen space. Abhishek Banerjee plays a brutal killer, who chooses to remain silent throughout the show. His anguish, his pain is often expressed through his eyes. Neeraj Kabi plays the journalist Sanjeev Mehra, who chooses to use the assassination attempt as a mean to revive his career. Swastika Mukherjee plays his wife Dolly, a woman tormented by depression and frequent anxiety attacks, who finds solace in caring for dogs. Interestingly, the love for dogs or the hate of it binds the whole show. After ‘Detective Byomkesh Bakshy’, these two actors get paired against each other and they complement each other quite well. Ishwak Singh, who plays Inspector Ansari, a righteous and ideological police officer, is fantastic. From his eyes, we get to see the marginalisation of the man from the larger community. From the ensemble cast, Gul Panaag, Jagjeet Sandhu, Niharika Lyra Dutt, Vipin Sharma, Akash Khurana, Anindita Bose, they all fit into the cast like they belonged to their respective roles.
Directed by Avinash Arun and Prosit Roy, ‘Paatal Lok’ is a riveting show. It may unsettle you with its depiction of brutality but the sheer audacity of the show will make you sit and take notice of it. A must watch!
‘Paatal Lok’ now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, worldwide.
The Cinemawala Rating: 4/5