There’s something about a quaint, fog-shrouded hill-station that lends itself effortlessly to the picture-perfect setting for a bracing murder mystery. And when the murder mystery involves a serial killer at large, it is like cherry on the cake of intrigue and complexity.
13 Mussoorie, the latest in a long line of originals from the stables of Viu India, is the murder mystery we’re talking about, and it spins a web of such intrigue and drama that the viewer is unwittingly drawn into it and caught in its unfathomable depths. Viu India presents this 13-episode web series, along with Bodhi Tree Multimedia, co-producers of the show.
For those of you who love a fast-paced yarn about inexplicable murders, wild goose chases and cat-and-mouse crime dramas, Viu India’s latest web original, 13 Mussoorie, is like manna from heaven. It has all the elements of a good whodunit to whet the appetite of crime and murder aficionados – gory murders – check; deranged serial killer on the loose – check; corpses piling up by the plural – check; and…ahem…..pretty young thing risking life and limb to hunt down the serial killer before he strikes too close for comfort – check, again.
Aditi Bisht (Shriya Pilgaonkar) is an investigative journalist, living an idyllic life in the picturesque, British-era hill station of Mussoorie. She’s happily married to cop, Rishi Pant (Viraf Patel). Her seemingly perfect world collapses around her when she is contacted by an unknown person who makes her privy to a chilling truth about Aks– an erstwhile serial killer, who had terrorised the small town four years ago with gruesome murders.
Aditi’s father, deceased cop, Ajay Bisht (Naveed Aslam), had been the investigating officer in the Aks case, but a tragic accident had left him crippled back then, and Aks was never caught. After a series of murders then, Aks had all but disappeared four years ago.
Even as Aditi struggles to digest the unnerving information revealed to her by the stranger, a waitress in a popular cafe is murdered by a masked man who follows the same modus operandi as Aks, precise to a T. While all the tell-tale signs point to the fact that Aks is back, Aditi knows otherwise, courtesy the truth she has discovered about the original Aks.
Chillingly, the person who had directed her to make the startling discovery is none other than the copycat killer impersonating Aks. The killer keeps Aditi in the loop about his every killing, while challenging her to catch him before he is compelled to make Rishi his next victim.
Aditi embarks on a wild goose chase to hunt the killer down, but encounters a dead end at every turn. Considerable reel space is devoted to building up suspects – a café owner (Jay Bodas) who pursues creepy voyeuristic pleasures; a paranoid drug addict; a hot-headed football player (Ashwini Koul) whose career had been ruined by Ajay Bisht and his crony cop, Girish Rawat (Mir Sarwar), four years ago; and a couple more. The story takes intriguing turns every now and then, which fizzle out too quickly to leave any lasting impact.
13 Mussoorie is fast-paced and gripping, neither dragging nor dilly-dallying. Brownie points to the direction for that. Take a bow, Abhijit Das. It is the story and screenplay that leave much to be desired. The story is riddled with inconsistencies and discrepancies.
Why did the original Aks go on a killing spree all those years ago? What was his motive behind killing eight innocent people? Considering his actual identity, (which we won’t reveal, lest we spoil the fun for the viewer) we are left hanging in mid-air vis-à-vis his reasons for killing innocents. The facts just don’t add up to our satisfaction.
Another thing we found strange was this- a dog, a German Shepherd at that, considered the foremost detective dog the world over, witnesses two murders and does not let out even a whimper in the event of the killings. It loiters around within metres of the victim lying dead, with nary a bark escaping its mouth. Weird, if we may.
The murders are shown in quite a tame manner. There’s no building up of suspense to a thrilling crescendo; that reaches an electrifying climax, to culminate in a shocking murder scene – the hallmark of any great serial killer flick. Yes, the murders in a serial killer whodunit are always the spectacular showpieces of the sequences and designed to leave their imprint on the viewers’ minds, to be recollected and savoured at leisure. Crime enthusiasts salivate at the thought of enticingly-shot murder scenes. Alas, 13 Mussoorie lacks this aspect of a memorable crime thriller, and glaringly, at that.
The series boasts an ensemble cast that keeps the pace of the show sharp and stimulating. Other than the main cast, there’s Teena Singh, who plays Nisha Gosain, Aditi’s friend and comrade-in-arms. Kashyap Harsha Shangari plays Mahesh, Ajay Bisht’s care-giver in his last years, while Shoaib Ahmed plays Tanmay Bajpayi, Aditi’s ex-flame. Shray Rai Tiwari is Rishi’s sidekick, Ali. Varun Tewari plays Varun Rawat, Girish Rawat’s gay son, and Mrinal Dutt plays his lover, Ishaan Saini.
The actors have put in their heart and soul into the show, and it shows. The acting is above par, and not a single character seems out of place. Shriya Pilgaonkar lends definitive credence to her role, and she shines in every scene that features her. Viraf Patel has put in a convincing and restrained performance, conveying the hard-nosed demeanour of a cop on the murderer’s trail with effortless ease. Mir Sarwar is enigmatic in his role of an ex-cop with skeletons in his cupboard. Naveed Aslam is brilliant as an inscrutable cipher, shrouded in layers of mystery that will hopefully unravel in later episodes.
All said and done, 13 Mussoorie is a good watch, falling short of must-watch status by a whisker. We, at IWMBuzz rate it 3.5/5.
(Written By Rashmi Paharia)