Paatal lok review: Anushka Sharma's first web series is an addictive crime thriller
Anushka Sharma delves into the internet space as a producer with Amazon Prime Video original series, Paatal Lok; and she couldn’t have picked a better show to start off with. The investigative thriller is the latest fad on OTT platforms, and it’s worth the hype.
Warning: The following review contains spoilers and photos that some viewers may find disturbing and/or may not be suitable for younger readers, including graphic depictions of assault. Viewer discretion is advised.
As the lockdown nears the end of its second month, we’ve been watching pretty much everything on the internet during this extended time-out from everyday life. If your standards, like ours, have dropped, here’s a show that will bring them swiftly back up: Paatal Lok, Amazon Prime Video’s new original series. Created by Sudip Sharma, who holds credit for critically-acclaimed films like Udta Punjab and NH10, Paatal Lok stars Jaideep Ahlawat, Neeraj Kabi, Swastika Mukherjee, Gul Panag, Abhishek Banerjee, and Ishwak Singh, among others. This gut-wrenching series has the unique distinction of marking Anushka Sharma’s debut in the world of web series, albeit from the producer’s chair for her production house, Clean Slate Films. The investigative thriller starts out with a failed assassination attempt, and spirals further down the road to the netherworld.
Crime, as a genre, has developed way beyond just gory details and gruesome murders. Hollywood movies, like Joker (2019), along with many other indie and mainstream works, have been ingeniously integrating portrayals of personal conflict, satire and comic relief for more inclusive plot lines. Closer to home, the trend has picked pace through Vir Das's Netflix crime comedy, Hasmukh, and medical crime thriller Kark Rogue on ZEE5. Paatal lok — released on Amazon Prime Video on May 15 — is the latest brilliantly-produced content, if you are looking to catch up on a gripping crime story.
The premise of the show is simple: An honest, unremarkable cop faces his biggest challenge yet, when he comes face-to-face with a twisted case way above his pay grade. While that may sound vaguely familiar, there’s no way this is a mere rip off of Saif Ali Khan-starrer Netflix crime drama, Sacred Games. Police inspector Hathiram Choudhary (a brilliant and unforgettable Jaideep Ahlawat) is handed an investigation to uncover the conspiracy to assassinate a prominent journalist, Sanjeev Mehra (Neeraj Kabi). He is as surprised by anyone for this gift, but it quickly becomes clear that this case is not the ticket to success he was hoping it would be. While he probes for the truth, he manages to unveil some dark secrets that shock him to the core. Along with his IPS-aspiring junior Imran Ansari (Ishwak Singh), the police officer finds himself in the deep realms of the underworld, struggling to piece together the stories of the four suspects arrested and charged with conspiracy to murder
Paatal Lok explores the themes of crime, politics, corruption, and freedom of speech, in a communally-loaded society. It rotates, with impeccable ease, from the affluent and educated newsroom of a leading media channel, to the backward district of Chitrakoot in Madhya Pradesh. While caste and class is the predominant factor in the past of each of the four suspects — Abhishek Banerjee as the dreaded serial killer Vishal Tyagi or "Hathoda" Tyagi, and his accomplices, Jagjeet Sandhu as Tope Singh or "Chaaku", who is subjected to casteist slurs and other humiliation in his small Punjabi village, Mairembam Ronaldo Singh as Mary Lyngdoh or "Cheeni", who depicts the queer experience in all its complexities, and Asif Khan as Kabir M, who hides his Muslim identity and doesn’t use his last name to avoid being identified instantly — it is not entirely absent from the present scenario, which is based in the metropolitan city of Delhi. The outer Jamnapaar area, or Paatal Lok, as Hathiram Choudhary calls it, is not like the other parts of Delhi. Imran Ansari’s character is key in understanding the veiled religious bias in contemporary times. Being a Muslim, he’s subjected to many off-hand comments by his colleagues and superiors. While not all are aimed at him, it becomes clear that they hurt him just as much as they hurt the criminals in question.
The show is riddled with details that tie in together over the duration of the nine episodes. But what really keeps the intrigue alive are the characters, and the actors that play those roles to the best of their abilities. While Jaideep Ahlawat’s performance is at the heart of the praise for Paatal Lok, his character Hathiram Choudhary is far from perfect. He has a hard time making friends, and even his relationship with his wife (Gul Panag) and teenage son are troubled. He’s stuck doing the same thankless job, and he’s made his peace with it – but at the same time, he’s trying. The growth his character undergoes is a treat to watch.
Paatal Lok manages to do justice to every character, however small their screen time. From the narcissistic "victim" journalist Sanjeev Mehra, and his emotionally fragile wife Dolly who leans on her foster dog, Savitri, to the guy who was hired to wreak havoc upon their lives, Vishal Tyagi, there’s a story behind every face. And it’s told with sincerity and conviction. The flashback scenes with the four accused, in particular, are some of the most gripping we've ever seen on a screen.
If you’re still wondering if you should watch Paatal lok or not, we recommend giving the pilot a shot without asking any further questions. But make sure you’ve finished all your work before you get down to watching it — because there’s no coming back from the gripping tale that is Paatal Lok.