Disclaimer: This review has no spoilers!
Let’s play a game. I’ll give you 5 clues and you have to guess the name of the TV show I am talking about. Five clues are – cop story, crime drama, set in northern India, PG content, an original from a top OTT player. Any guesses? I am not talking about Sacred Games, or The Family Man, or Mirzapur.. I am talking about Amazon Prime’s latest original ‘Paatal Lok’ that makes for a gripping television series in the ‘neo-noir’ genre with powerful performances and an interesting storyline.
Set in Delhi, Paatal Lok is an Indian crime-based thriller that captures the atrocity and monstrosity committed in the nooks of the lesser-known parts of Delhi. The series begins with the protagonist Inspector Hathi Ram Chaudhary (Jaideep Ahlawat) explaining the current state of Delhi by drawing an analogy from Hindu mythology of Svarga Lok (heaven), Prithvi Lok (earth/mortal plane) and Paatal Lok (the underworld). Chaudhary goes on to explain that their police station ‘Outer Yamuna’ is that of Paatal Lok where it is filled with insects and other lowly creatures who commit crimes which the world is indifferent towards. This is an exact representation of ‘Outer Yamuna’ until one ominous morning when cops from Delhi police headquarters catch a wanted criminal passing an area under the jurisdiction of ‘Outer Yamuna’. Chaudhary, who has been spending his time handling petty cases, is motivated as he begins to unearth this case which leads him to conspiracies he couldn’t have imagined.
This series has many brilliant performances from many lesser-known actors. Ahlawat has given a notable performance playing what can easily be a career-changing role for him. His portrayal as a motivated cop, helpless father, and vulnerable individual is impactful. You also see a powerful performance by a bunch of actors – Ishwak Singh who plays the role of Imran Ansari, an honest cop and Chaudhary’s confidante, Abhishek Banerjee who plays the role of a notorious criminal Vishal ‘Hathoda’ Tyagi, Gul Panag as Renu, Chaudhary’s wife, and many more. In a span of 9 episodes, you see over 100 different locations which adds to the richness of the show.
Paatal Lok is the debut television venture for Anushka Sharma’s production company ‘Clean Slate Productions’. Anushka has teamed up with Sudip Sharma (creator of the show) and Prosit Roy (director of the show – 4 episodes) – both of whom have previously worked with her company. Sudip was the writer of NH10, Clean Slate Productions’s first feature, and Prosit directed Clean Slate Productions’s second feature film ‘Pari’. It is also said that this series is loosely based on the book ‘The Story Of My Assassins’ by Tarun Tejpal (ex-editor-in-chief of Tehelka) but we do not see any credits attributed to him even though some of the characters’ names are the same as in the book.
I have used the word ‘neo-noir’ because you see the cynical characters acting out of contemptuous intentions and sexual motivation in an intricate plot. You see flaws in every character and it relates back to the Hindu mythology where the rulers of Paatal Lok, ‘Danavas’, weren‘t universally evil. They were deemed evil due to a mix of their choices coupled with others’ interpretation of them.
If this series was intended to be Amazon’s response to Netflix’s Sacred Games, I would like to believe that Amazon has outdone itself. The show had certain disturbing scenes which I thought it could do without, but it is called ‘Paatal Lok’ for a reason. Although the series gets a little convoluted with backstories of many non-essential characters, this show is gripping enough to binge-watch on a Saturday evening.
Reviewed by Puneet Ruparel