Review Of Amazon Prime’s Paatal Lok: A Powerfully Narrated Show Which Is Resoundingly Real

Paatal Lok : An Acute Observation Of Class Divide

The show opens on a pitch-black screen with us hearing two cops talking. The obviously older one starts explaining to the rookie that the world is segregated into three echelons. They go as follows, Swarg Lok referring to the rich and powerful, Dharthi Lok referring to the middle class and the third being the lowest of them, Pataal Lok referring to the poor and underprivileged. The older cop immediately undercuts this statement by revealing that he read this on a WhatsApp forward. Right after which he stops a domestic abuse situation, in an act of absolute apathy, in a poor locality, brought to their notice by a seemingly rich lady.

This small vignette perfectly encapsulates the themes and ideas beautifully for the roller coaster ride ahead. Hence I was hooked…

When The Three Worlds Collide…

The show is a noir-ish mystery that tells the story of these three worlds colliding resulting in a rift within the ‘well-oiled machine called society’ as one of the characters refers to it. Four suspects are arrested under the suspicion of conspiring to murder a prime-time journalist called Sanjeev Mehra (Neeraj Kabi). This high-profile case lands on the table of a world-weary, washed up cop at the end of his rope, Hathi Ram Chaudhary (Jaideep Ahlawat). He steadfastly starts investigating this case with the help of his trusty sidekick, a rookie cop. This leads them down a rabbit hole of corruption, murder, conspiracy, and political malpractice to the dismay of many in power. Where this rabbit hole ends and what is the mystery behind this cryptic tale of rich versus poor forms the rest of this super-fast paced, endlessly twisty narrative.

The ‘Heroes’ Of This Story…

Firstly, the show stands tall on the shoulders of its writers – Sudip Sharma, Sagar Haveli, Hardik Mehta, and Gunjit Chopra. These four miracle workers somehow square the hole in creating a narrative that is extremely fast-paced and pulpy. Yet all the while dealing with a lot of societal taboo and topical subjects like class-divide, fake news, caste hierarchy, xenophobia, transphobia, broken justice system, etc., with a lot of care and sharp sensitivity. They do this with an organically plotted story, extensive research on the various cultures, well-structured character arcs, and recurring motifs that subtextually tell a deeper, more unsettling story.

One of the motifs that really stood out was the use of dogs throughout the show that mean different things to different people, from truth to faith to innocence to unconditional love. This is perfectly bookended by that last shot which is going to be permanently etched into my memory. When it comes to the character arcs, this is as good as it gets. Hathi Ram, who has been aptly named so, deals with constant roadblocks throughout the runtime of the show, yet triumphantly perseveres. From his trusted Muslim sidekick who happens to be someone harboring the dreams of exploring greener pastures to an idealistic media employee who sleeps with her boss may all seem like clichés at the start but will surprise you with the journey, their characters take you on. But my favorite one of the bunch is the slow inevitable shift of Sanjeev Mehra’s character from a crusading liberal to a fame-hungry egomaniac that reminded me of a famous so-called journalist that I choose not to name.

An Ensemble Cast For The Ages…

The casting team has done a brilliant job of putting together a pitch-perfect ensemble to elevate the writing to newer heights. Leading the charge is Jaideep Ahlawat with a tour de force performance that is easily the best performance I have seen all year. He is mercurial in his portrayal of this cop. His frustration is palpable in every frame, his pride is unmistakable and his persistence is unending. He can do all this with a simple sigh and when he is given such splendidly written dialogue, he obviously hits out of the park. A close competition to him is Neeraj Kabi, who plays an egomaniacal yet charismatic Prime Time Journalist who slowly morphs into a demagogue. He beautifully shows us the slow descent into the cynicism that is inevitable with that much power and attention.

Some of the other shout outs from the cast are – Gul Panag as Hathi Ram’s doting wife Renu Chaudary, Swastika Mukherjee as Dolly Mehra, an anxiety-ridden woman dealing with a midlife crisis, Jagjeet Sandhu who plays as an arrogant short-tempered goon named Tope Singh, Bodhisattva Sharma as an angst-ridden teen (Siddharth Chaudhary) with bad influences and Ishwak Singh who plays a dutiful Muslim cop (Imran Ansari) having to deal with everyday xenophobia at his workplace. Finally, the real standout is the supremely gifted Abhishek Banerjee who plays a quietly menacing goon who enjoys killing people with a hammer named Vishal ‘Hathoda’ Tyagi. He does not have a lot of dialogue throughout the show yet I was absolutely transfixed at his disturbingly unsettling psychopathic eyes. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

A Rewarding Symphony Of All The Crafts Behind The Camera…

The show operates at a very high level technically. The showrunners have put together a team of artists who collaborate and elevate each other’s craft to create a mesmerizing epic for the ages. The grimy yet aesthetic cinematography by Avinash Arun and Saurabh Goswami is elevated by the unnerving score by Naren Chandavarkar and Benedict Taylor. These two crafts are seamlessly blended together by editor Sanyukta Kaza, who is emerging to be one of the best editors in the industry with Tumbadd and Ship of Theseus, already in her catalog. All of the above are perfectly orchestrated together to keep us transfixed to the screen by directors Avinash Arun & Prosit Roy.

Amazon Prime has been on a roll lately and this is another hit in their bag. The show very tactfully takes noir tropes, but somehow throws out the unbearable nihilism and replaces it with cautious optimism. Paatal Lok is a triumph narratively, thematically and politically making it thus, a must-watch. If you want to watch something that is topical and sensational that is executed with top-notch craft and style to spare this is the show for you. Thank you, Anushka Sharma and Clean Slate Films for bringing this to us in these trying times and I can’t wait for Season 2. 

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