Dahaad Review: Gulshan Devaiah, Sohum Shah Shine in Lacklustre Series Headlined by Sonakshi Sinha
In 2012, filmmaker Reema Kagti directed Talaash: The Answer Lies Within, a quintessential Bombay noir, which saw superstar Aamir Khan play the role of a vulnerable and reticent cop. It opened to raving reviews and has remained etched in the minds of the audience to this date. At a time when onscreen male cops were only seen beating up the bad guys in their testosterone pumping alpha avatars, here was inspector Surjan Singh Shekhawat, who defied every rule in the book and reinforced that male cops can be sensitive, mellowed and emotionally wounded too.
Eleven years later, Reema returns to helming another cop drama, Dahaad, which just released on Amazon Prime. Now, in all honesty, it is fairly unfair to draw parallels between two projects just because they circumnavigate around a cop. Having said that, one can’t help it. Dahaad has eight episodes, each of them running for almost an hour, and it still it doesn’t create the same impression as the 139 minutes long Talaash.
A web series gives each character the golden opportunity to be elaborately fleshed out. But the same thing cannot be said about Dahaad. It lacks the emotionality and nuance of Talaash. Talaash resorted to supernaturalism to tug at our heartstrings. Dahaad, on the other hand, is set in heartland India and plays on everything realistic. Despite its realistic quotient and ingredients required to helm a successful crime drama, the essence of Dahaad evaporates quickly and before long, you end up questioning the intention behind why it was made in the first place.
Previously titled Fallen, it is set against the backdrop of Mandawa, a small town, and follows sub-inspector Anjali Bhaati and her colleagues. It all starts when a series of women are mysteriously found dead in public bathrooms and she is tasked with the investigation. At first, the deaths appear to be clear-cut suicides but as cases unravel, Anjali begins to suspect that a serial killer is on the loose. What follows is a game of cat and mouse between a seasoned criminal and an underdog cop as she pieces together evidence before another innocent woman loses her life.
Dahaad skilfully also touches upon the themes of sexism and casteism without turning the narrative too preachy. Anjali belongs to a lower caste community and faces obstacles every now and then. Her superintendent at work doesn’t trust her with serious cases and leaves no opportunity to look at her like an object of titillation, even doubting a senior male cop, Devilal Singh, of adultery with her when he chooses to put her on all the major cases. A criminal’s family, on the other hand, refuses to let her in for investigation citing that her presence will wash away the sanctity of the haveli that belongs to an upper caste family. While Anjali is busy unearthing the case of murder, her mother leaves no stone unturned to find her a groom because a woman’s unmarried status can raise several eyebrows. Devilal’s wife is seen telling him how she doesn’t want to give their daughter any kind of freedom because she fears she would end up like Anjali.
Reema and her co-writers Zoya Akhtar and Ritesh Shah also deserve applause for the way they sketched the male characters. They are far removed from the prototype of the cops that we’ve grown up watching on celluloid and that’s the one thread of commonality between Talaash and Dahaad. Here too, the men are emotionally vulnerable, dealing with their inner demons, are taciturn and don’t bear the burden and façade of toxic manhood. Devilal is a feminist and apart from being a pillar of strength and support to Anjali, he’s also his daughter’s biggest cheerleader. Time and again, he reiterates how he doesn’t discriminate between his son and daughter. He becomes an epitome of soft masculinity and his character marks an interesting addition to the trailblazing slate of Farhan Akhtar and Zoya’s men characters like Gully Boy’s (2015) Murad Ahmed, Dil Dhadakne Do’s (2019) Kabir Mehra and Sunny Gill and Made In Heaven’s (2019) Karan Mehra. Kudos to Gulshan Devaiah for playing Devilal with a rare restraint and subdued charm! While this character is far removed from Badhaai Do’s (2022) Guru Narayan, it can safely be said that he is one of the stand-out faces of modern masculinity in contemporary Bollywood, thanks to his offbeat choices.
Another inspector in the cop station is Kailash Parghi. His part is sketched with a brilliant moral arc and Sohum Shah completely nails it. In the beginning, he appears to be vindictive and jealous, who looks down on his female counterpart, but as the story progresses, you feel for him. What appears selfish on the surface is just Parghi fending for himself in a world that has been unjust to him and fails to see his true worth. A sub-plot explores a complicated relationship he shares with his newly pregnant wife and that has also been written with a lot of compassion and thought.
The antagonist Anand Swarnakar is brilliantly played by Vijay Varma, who has already proved his mettle as the bad boy in Darlings (2022). Here too, he is creepy and unassuming and bears the darkest heart and soul. Underneath the exterior of a charming and cool literature professor, he’s ruthless. Anand seems to be a murkier extension of the remorseless and vicious Hamza Shaikh and while Vijay plays the part with a lot of honesty and belief, it would be interesting to watch him break out of the pattern and veer away from this zone and do something else soon to give us a glimpse of his calibre and versatility.
Anjali Bhaati, on the other hand, is an under-cooked and very safely written character even though she’s the protagonist. Sonakshi Sinha plays her fairly well but there aren’t any graphs to play around with. She’s perpetually anxious and solemn and maybe that goes with the theme of the show but it lends no spark and layer to her character. Having earned the moniker of one of the poster girls of mainstream pot-boilers, Sonakshi could have gotten rid of that image with Dahaad. The actor, who made heads turns with her portrayal of the terminally ill but compelling Pakhi in Lootera (2013) a decade back, could have shifted gears and made yet another impressive impression with Anjali but the lacklustre writing comes in the way.
What predominantly works against Dahaad is its length. Its run-time bordering on eight hours is excruciating. The show only picks up in the fourth episode but it’s too late by then. A crisper narrative would have definitely helped the crime drama. There are barely any cliff-hangers and sadly, there are hardly any scenes that make you sit up, leave you intrigued and catch your fancy.
The story has predictability written all over it and even if you aren’t a fan of crime fiction, you will end up guessing what’s going to happen next. At times, you may even wonder why it’s tough to get to the bottom of the murder case and catch hold of the serial killer because it seems to be a child’s play with hardly any loose ends to be tied together. A story like this has been done to death and lacks novelty. What further disappoints is that the joint forces of Excel Entertainment and Tiger Baby, which has changed the game for Indian cinema, has put the amateur world of Dahaad together. It’s comes across as nothing more than a run-of-the-mill, plain Jane, super easy puzzle.