Pour: Tahir Raj Bhasin, Shweta Tripathi, Anchal Singh, Saurabh Shukla
Director: Siddharth Sengupta
evaluation: Two stars (out of 5)
The anti-hero personality who catapulted Shahrukh Khan into the Bollywood stratosphere in the early 1990s gets a female clone in the new Netflix series almost 30 years later Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein. It’s not a patch on the original, though, because there’s none of the throbbing energy of the Baazigar and Darr in this unpredictable and ineffective thriller.
Written and directed by Siddharth Sengupta, Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein, creates another major reversal, turning the hunted into the hunter in a tale of obsessive love that reverses the gender dynamic to give the woman the upper hand, who doesn’t take no for an answer.
The title of the series, as the whole wide world knows, is a line from a Baazigar song, but there is no place in it for intense, contagious romance Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein, in which Tahir Raj Bhasin (in his second web series of the week) plays a helpless engineering graduate whose life is thrown into a tailspin when a powerful politician’s daughter forces him into marriage.
Vikrant Chauhan, the male protagonist and narrator of his story, tries hard to avoid the unwanted attention of the unwavering Purva Awasthi (Anchal Singh), who has kept an eye on him since his school days in foosball.
With the prelude set for what is to come, the girl returns to the small town they live in “five years, eight months and seven days” after Vikrant declined her offer of friendship and she vanished from his life is. Absence has made her heart beat faster and her passion has intensified. Vikrant’s fate is sealed.
It doesn’t take him time to find out he’s trapped. Purva’s father is local political strongman Akheraj Awasthi ‘Vidrohi’ (Saurabh Shukla) and the employer of Vikrant’s accountant father. Wriggling out is not an option, the young man learns to his dismay and his family when he ticks off Purva and tells her he’s not interested in being friends with her.
Don’t take on the power of Akheraj’s goons, Vikrant’s childhood friend Golden (Anantvijay Joshi) warns him. That would not be stupid; it would be suicide, he says. Vikrant loves his college colleague Shikha (Shweta Tripathi Sharma) and intends to marry her as soon as he gets a job. But now that Purva is breathing down his neck, a cloud hangs over his relationship with Shikha.
With his back against the wall, Vikrant devises an elaborate and dangerous plan for vengeance, transforming himself from a meek, unassuming young man into a sneaky schemer ready to push his luck. However, he learns the hard way that coercion and hatred are not enough to pull the trigger. You also have to be inhuman to be able to kill.
Vikrant is not a born killer. Therefore, in order to emulate his tormentors, he must turn to the dark web and internet videos to arm himself with the bare essentials to ward them off and prevent Purva from forestalling his plans. He sinks deeper and deeper into a cesspool. At one point, his best friend rebukes him for becoming just like the people he hates the most. But once Vikrant has taken the plunge, there’s no turning back.
If that sounds like it Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein has all the ingredients for a dynamic, suspenseful thriller to fly, nothing could be further from the truth. Purva’s passion, Shikha’s vulnerability, and Vikrant’s desperate measures don’t exactly come together to deliver a humdinger. The monotony creeps into the show pretty quickly and then won’t go away.
Neither the heinous exploits of Akheraj – Saurabh Shukla’s portrayal is characteristically competent, but the veteran actor seems exceptional to repeat things he’s previously done on screen and does so with greater aplomb – nor the damned cruel ways of his spoiled daughter shine that way from out threat that could make Vikrant’s daring retaliations seem like an absolutely inevitable reaction to hints of danger.
The politician has a bloodthirsty adopted son, Dharmesh (played by Surya Sharma, who played a similar role in Siddharth Sengupta’s earlier web series Undekhi). He unleashes a band of tough thugs and unbridled mayhem when Vikrant decides to take matters into his own hands. Late in the series, a silent sniper (Arunoday Singh) joins the melee. He tries to add firepower to the plot but to no avail. When Vikrant agrees to marry Purva, the latter says imperiously: Time pe pahunchna warna tumko uthwa lenge (get there on time or I’ll have you kidnapped). Nothing unusual given the position of power the girl enjoys. The fact that it’s not a man who can stand the threat gives the line an unusual ring.
In another scene, Purva’s father, whose brutality the hero witnesses at the beginning of the series, articulates Vikrant’s predicament: “Tum Purva ki trophy ho. Jeetegi toh wohi (You are my daughter’s trophy. She will win no matter what).”
Set in a fictional town in Uttar Pradesh called Onkara, Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein is about a man who wants to escape the confines of his sleepy birthplace, but is constrained because his own father, indebted to his master for favors bestowed in the past, insists that the boy must not miss the golden opportunity upon him offered on a tray. Against his own advice, Vikrant is forced to give up his dream and the girl he loves.
Can any series set in the provinces of India’s largest state do without political thugs and constant talk about elections? Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein definitely not. Musclemen are rampaging and various people are in their line of fire. It’s election time too – Akheraj has raised huge funds for the cause and Vikrant’s father has the key to the warehouse – but the show doesn’t actually have scenes of election rallies and crowds saluting their leader.
“I fucking invested my life in you,” Purva thunders in one scene. But she puts her state of mind into perspective: “I’m not crazy. I’m just possessive.” The fanatical fixation on an object of desire that would have added psychological urgency to her pursuit of the hero is indeed absent from the character’s mental state and the dangerous liaison she forges. And that’s where everything goes wrong.
Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein just isn’t deep or dark enough to give the actors the latitude to hit the high notes. Not that the performances are below average. It’s the show that’s a disappointment.
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