Amazon Prime’s latest web series ‘Paatal Lok’ is streaming on the platform now. This nine-episode series is based on Tarun Tejpal’s critically acclaimed book ‘The Story of My Assassins’ which is based on actual events. However, the name of the book does not feature on the credits, perhaps because Tejpal was one of the accused in the #metoo movement.
Directed by- Avinash Arun and Prosit Roy
Created by- Sudip Sharma
Production- Clean Slate Films
Starring- Neeraj Kabi, Gul Panag, Jaideep Ahlawat, Abhishek Banerjee, Swastika Mukherjee
This is an investigative thriller where Delhi police caught four people on their way to an assassination of a high-profile and renowned journalist Sanjeev Mehra. The case is then assigned to a mediocre cop of outer Jamuna Par thana Inspector Hatiram Chaudhary played by Jaideep Ahlawat who bifurcate the universe into three worlds: in the upper Swarg Lok (the heaven) where the Gods reside, in the middle Dharti Lok (the earth) where humans reside, and at the very bottom Paatal Lok (netherworld) where insects like creepy crawlies reside. And he contemplates that Jamuna Par and his duty belong to the bottom sect of this universe. The reference is from the Hindu mythology which he read from a WhatsApp forward but reminds us of the grim reality of class divide in the society.
Four accused Hathoda Tyagi played by Abhishek Banerjee (killed 45 people with a hammer), Cheeni played by Mairembam Ronaldo Singh (a transgender person named Cheeni by his adopters matching with his facial features), two other accused played by Aasif Khan and Jagjeet Sandhu. The entire story progresses with a glimpse of their past, balancing a very fine line between justifying their actions and the layered cataclysm of their fate.
The genre of thriller is all the rage today, especially the procedural dramas and in particular investigative narratives, something we have seen in successful and acclaimed shows like Netflix’s ‘Delhi Crimes’ or Amazon Prime’s ‘The Family Man’. ‘Paatal Lok’ is another latest addition in that genre, but this time the story is more layered and pitch-black dark of portrayal of India’s underground.
As the story transits from one episode to another, the background of these murderers and culprits are revealed. The investigative officers visit their hometowns like Chitrakoot to dig out the backcloth and what comes out will haunt you to sleepless nights. The narration is so intelligent that despite their ghastly backstories, it does not make the audience loathe their fates, neither make them hold the characters responsible for their circumstances.
A shout out to Abhishek Mukherjee for his stern looks and excellent performance as Hathoda Tyagi who holds the keys of a well-hidden secret in the entire series. Earlier Mukherjee was seen playing a comic part in ‘Stree’ which is in contrast with that of ‘Paatal Lok’.
Neeraj Kabi who sketched the role of Sanjeev Mehra as an affluent, arrogant journalist played his part to the T. Kabi’s character and the issue which is the centre of ‘Paatal Lok’ is eerily resonating with the fate of today’s journalism. In one of the beginning scenes, Kabi says “we (journalists) used to be heroes; now we get trolled, killed, fired … we are all indispensable like Gauri Lankesh”.
Gauri Lankesh was an Indian journalist turned activist who was shot to death by three assailants at her residence in Rajarajeshwari Nagar. She was known for being vocal about atrocities of right-wing Hindu extremism. M.M Kalburgi, an Indian scholar and activist for scientific understanding, was also shot in the same manner. The list goes on.
Swastika Mukherjee who played Dolly Mehra (Neeraj Kabi’s wife) is an anxious middle-aged woman. Her character has its own complexities which are constantly dealing with clinical nervous breakdowns surviving on pills which has an impact on her relationship with her husband, who is indulging in sexual relationships outside their marriage. As a woman in her 40s she holds herself responsible and blames childlessness and her sagging boobs in the mirror. There is a scene where she literally forces her husband to fornicate to have a child to save her marriage. which is completely opposite of what we as the audience are habituated to see.
Besides, in some parts, the series feels directionless hence exhausting. Probably to show the real essence of how investigations are usually conducted. But the constant tension and the glimpses of the rural ‘Paatal Lok’ holds the audience till the last frame.
In totality, the series is a gruesome tale of assassinations, the condition of journalism and how freedom of speech is at risk.
Another prominent contrast to be observed is how class divides, and hell goes hand in hand; between the assassinates and the victim, the upper class and the bourgeois complications; where an upper-class wife fights her anxiety with a glass of wine, and the teenage son of a middle-class police officer fights the anxiety of the riches holding a gun in his hand.
The difficulty lies not only in the story to digest but the visuals. To recite the background of one of the accused Cheeni whose uncle left him in the train after his parents died was taken by a child rag picker who then take the orphan into their cult, hands out a handkerchief and says “soongne ki aadat daal le, jeena aasaan ho jayga”.
There are many such gut-wrenching hints giving scenes where kids were shown to be raped, murdered, and physically abused.
With a subject and storytelling like this, ‘Paatal Lok’ is undoubtedly a difficult watch, but one should sit through it to understand a world epitomised in Jamuna Par.