Paatal Lok Review: It’s a dog eat dog world in Jaideep Ahlawat & Neeraj Kabi’s scrumptious investigative drama

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Paatal Lok Review: With a stellar lead act transformation for Jaideep Ahlawat in Paatal Lok, this Anushka Sharma produced web series is as gruesome as it’s delectable. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but is worthy of a watch, for sure.

There’s a sense of déjà vu moment when you enter the world of Paatal Lok, in its glorious dark nature. It reminds you of one Sacred Games, which turned out to be a blockbuster opening for Indian web shows on an international platform. The storyline between both series is more or less the same. Jaideep Ahlawat, in his first leading role, packs a punch as the good cop Hathiram Chaudhary, who gets thrust with the case of a lifetime. What seems like an assassination attempt on a renowned journalist (Neeraj Kabi) is startling just a pawn piece in a larger chess game of politics, religion and even journalism.

With four primary suspects in place; all of whom have their disgraced backstories in place, it’s the mystifying Hathoda Tyagi (Abhishek Banerjee) who is at the forefront of this dog-eat-dog world investigative drama. For creator Sudip Sharma, who is also a co-writer of Paatal Lok, the mingling of so many facets of society, especially during the current times with its social imbalance was a tricky storyline to undertake. But, balancing the art between obvious and subtlety is what works for the script of Paatal Lok.

In what seems like an OTT fever dream when it comes to the superb casting, it’s a visual delight to see the talented Jaideep take on the entire show on his shoulders and go to the extreme when it comes to Hathiram’s anguish over proving his worth to make his son proud. What’s monotonous in his storyline however is the fact that it all boils down to ‘Daddy Issues’ which almost feel like a recurring theme for recent movies and web series. Every action of his is tied down to his father, who mistreated him or his son, who hates him as any teenage kid would. Nonetheless, Ahlawat treats us with a delectable performance that gets better as the drama unfolds.

On the other hand, we have the left-liberal journalist in Neeraj who spices things up with his hidden agendas as Sanjeev walks the line between being ethical and selfish. Through his character, we get a deeper insight into how news organisations have shifted towards the entertainment TRP factor, along with the inclusion of fake news (insert Donald Trump’s imitation). There’s also a love triangle of sorts between Sanjeev, his anxiety-ridden wife, Dolly Mehra (Swastika Mukherjee), with a fondness of puppies (and the deep-rooted regret over not having a baby) and his mistress and colleague, Sara Matthews (Niharika Lyra Dutt), who is wickedly ambitious. Both Swastika and Sara try to bring forward to the table a different aspect with strong women characters but aren’t fleshed out enough to be equal with the ‘all-boys mentality’.

ALSO READ | EXCLUSIVE: Jaideep Ahlawat CONFIRMS Paatal Lok creator Sudip Sharma has already begun scripting Season 2

Gul Panag was given the front billing during the marketing round as Hathiram’s headstrong and genuine-hearted wife, Renu Chaudhary. However, with minimal scenes; just to establish the family dynamics for Hathiram, it almost feels like a wasted opportunity as Renu could have been undertaken by anyone. The sexualisation of women as well as them being pawns to target the deeply gruesome scenes upon may seem apt for storytelling but at the same time, there’s a heavy ratio downfall that impacts Paatal Lok deeply. It’s high time we move on from the stereotypical mindsets when it comes to women characters. Seriously, move on!

The trump card in Paatal Lok is Abhishek’s scene-stealing act as the intensity he brings forward to Hathoda Tyagi needs to be seen to be believed. Again, the limited screen time is a major buzzkill but with what little he had to work with but Banerjee’s vehemence in his eyes alone is a winner. A special mention to the dynamic between Hathiram and his mentee Imran Ansari (Ishwak Singh) which adds a sense of lightness to the all-dark tale. Through Imran, the theme of communalism comes into place with him being a Muslim cop who gets degraded by his own colleagues. Moreover, it’s the delicate nature with which his storyline progresses that is a pleasant surprise to witness onscreen.

Like Sacred Games, we have a Masterji instead of a Guruji, who is that hidden, mysterious element that Hathiram tries to decipher for nine episodes. Whether he comes out on top or burns to ashes is something you will have to watch yourself. Moreover, there’s ample content when it comes to poster-worthy quotes with a special mention to a Black Widow reference made by a politician (you won’t believe who plays it!) in reference to his opposition. Thank me later!

Cheers to the production design team as well for bringing authenticity towards the three universes – Swarg Lok, Dharti Lok and Paatal Lok, with something as simple as a worn-out room with years and years of criminal records ridden in dust and insects. As Hathiram gets his hands on a few records, the attention to detailing with the minutest of dust particles is taken special care of. Even the background score has a particular amp attached to it that helps carry forward the storyline of the three universes.

ALSO READ | EXCLUSIVE: Neeraj Kabi is glad Anushka Sharma is producing Paatal Lok: An artist’s sensitivity is different

Besides the intriguing plotline, which leaves a cliffhanger ending in almost all episodes, it’s primarily the cast that makes Paatal Lok work. It may seem a bit dicey to turn to such a dark-oriented storyline during such troubling times but if you treat it as the investigative drama that it’s meant to be, then you won’t be disappointed. Moreover, if you’re a dog lover, Paatal Lok is just what the doctor ordered. There has to be a little Anushka Sharma sprinkled over Paatal Lok.

Check out the Paatal Lok trailer here:

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