Dahaad review: Sonakshi Sinha’s engaging police procedural undone by an undercooked finale
The mainstream cinematic obsession with overtly stylish, muscular, and vengeful policemen has seen an unlikely growth in the past decade. Who would know this better than Sonakshi Sinha, who made her debut a decade ago with Dabangg, playing the village belle who willingly marries the popular cop. In Dahaad the new Prime Video series from the makers of Made in Heaven, she knows better as sub-inspector Anjali Bhaati: she arrives on her bike to meet a boy for a wedding match. She is in charge, and knows what is best for her. (Also read: Air review: Ben Affleck scores high in superbly crafted sports drama on Nike’s deal with Michael Jordan)
It is not the needless rowdiness that takes precedence here as Bhaati goes about her work as an inspector in a room full of male police officers. The focus remains on the matter-of-fact attitude that Bhaati- irrespective of her gender, and caste position–has to go on with her responsibilities. Dahaad, the new series created by Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti, fixes its gaze squarely on a small town named Mandwa in Rajasthan. Missing complaints of women in particular are commonplace, with the increasingly volatile situations that occur due to caste-based and love-jihad labels. The first two episodes of Dahaad find itself unable to move past this web of chaotic socio-cultural perils, and in the mix, is only able to build the characters that would take the lead from hereon.
A mystery unfolds
Bhaati here works with chief Devi Laal Singh (Gulshan Devaiah), and another sub-inspector Kailash Parghi (Sohum Shah). In the midst of this resurfaces the missing girl complaint that was reported almost two months ago, which now on further investigation leads them to strikingly similar chain of events. Where the girl elopes with an unknown lover- with money and jewellery, and leaves behind a letter to the family stating that she has taken the decision herself. Within the next two days, these women are found dead in public washrooms- clad in bridal costume and left foaming in the mouth- poisoned with cyanide. As one clue leads to another, Bhaati takes the lead into the investigation, the chase builds to hunt down the serial killer at loose.
In a parallel track, we follow Vijay Varma’s Anand Swarnakar, a meek and reserved man who works as a Hindi professor at a nearby college. When he is not teaching poems in class, he drives around his school van that he uses to distribute books. Or so it seems. Dahaad follows Anand till he returns back home to his wife Vandana (a superb Zoa Morani) and his kid, but there is more than what meets the eye. Directors Reema Kagti and Ruchika Oberoi follow Anand with an air of intrigue, slowly but surely leaving breadcrumbs of suspicion along the way. There’s a rhythmic balance in the way Anand goes about his ways and Dahaad pulls the audience into that secrecy. The murders keep piling.
Amid the chase that takes precedence of the narrative, Dahaad cuts deep into the personal spaces of these characters with stirring effect. Bhaati returns home to the constant reminders of her mother to get married that leaves her exasperated. At work, the constant jibes at her caste never stop. There’s Parghi, who badly needs a promotion, and then learns that his wife is pregnant. Parghi doesn’t want a child to grow up and face this wretched world and suggests his wife to go for an abortion. At last, there is Devi, whose relationship with his wife and kids is tested with his closeness to Bhaati.
Gulshan Devaiah is the standout
Dahaad shines the brightest when the creators follow these strong-willed, determined police officers in the corners of their houses, finding their own reasons to survive and face the light next day. These are not just police officers, but also daughters, husbands, and fathers- who are trying to stay calm and resilient. In one standout scene, Devi makes his son sit beside him and explains that the curiosity around sex is natural at his age and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s always a certain maturity and sensibility that comes with age so if there’s anything that he wants to talk about, his father is there to listen. Gulshan Devaiah plays Devi with such magnetism and grace that it’s hard to look at anyone else when he’s in the frame. His performance is the standout of Dahaad.
As Bhaati, Sonakshi Sinha is fierce and effective, yet there’s that stiff body language that somehow diffuses the exuberance that her presence required. She is aided sufficiently by Sohum Shah, who plays Parghi with just the right balance of earnestness and exasperation. Meanwhile, as strikingly underwritten his Anand is, Vijay Varma brings a terrifying playfulness to him that make us coy to his questionable deeds. Varma has had his share of playing characters with doubtful motives, but in Dahaad he is fully able to build his Anand in the smallest of gestures and movements. He is superb. Watch him in a later scene when his wife opens up a harsh truth of which he is very much aware of. Even if Dahaad trips when it comes to that big showdown, Varma’s performance is so layered and consistently menacing that you know exactly what he’s been cultivating all this while in silence.
Dahaad is controlled and superbly orchestrated, never giving way to the sensational tone of serial killer crusades and dramatic monologues with wide-eyed close-ups. Reema Kagti and Zoya Akhtar have a brilliant eye for world-building, and here along with cinematographer Tanay Satam and editor Anand Subaya, we get a persuasive and nuanced police procedural that just falls short at the pivotal point. It is only at the denouement, where Dahaad shockingly goes for a nosedive, and gives way to an undercooked finale. The payoff, after all the gigantic, herculean chase, feels like a firecracker bursting only to a whisper. It is the only gigantic flaw that single-handedly pulls down the otherwise chilling effect of Dahaad. It resembles a cul de sac at the end of a long, winding road towards a mountain top.