The US of A had its westerns. And now, Indian digital-land has its Hindi heartland crime capers.Just as the westerns are singularly unique to American movie history, so also, the recent spate of crime dramas that the Indian online space is witnessing is a wholly home-grown genre of content creation; something we, as Indians, should be mighty pride of. Indian content creators are gradually carving out a narrative style that is distinctly inventive, stunningly ingenious and all their own.

In place of the glut of slice-of-life shows depicting the travails of the millennial, Indian content creators are now coming up with hearteningly original fare, the kind that looks inwards; that draws inspiration from the expansive, untamed Indian hinterland.

Apharan, the latest web series from the furiously dynamic stables of ALTBalaji, is a sparkling exemplar of the latter ilk. Apharan is a crime-thriller-action-drama-mystery-comedy that is difficult to slot into a particular category. It has elements of everything – it is equal parts dark, edgy, funny, unpredictable, and yes, unusual. Yes, that’s the word. Apaharan is unusual. It is storytelling, the likes of which we’ve not seen until now. Producers, Edgestorm Productions, and OTT platform, ALTBalaji, sure have a winner with this one.

Right from the setting to the treatment to the umpteen twists that keep viewers constantly on edge, Apharan is vastly different from the usual shows that dot the digital landscape. The setting is small town Uttarakhand, while the treatment is, well…. imaginative. The twists are something that will keep you glued to your screens, leaving you unwilling to even bat an eyelid, for fear of missing one of those.

Rudra Srivastava (Arunoday Singh) is a respected police officer in the Haridwar police force and something of an abduction specialist. He has an extraordinary knack for busting the most complex of abduction cases. He is also quite a venerated police officer among his peers and juniors. But unfortunately for him, he is beset with an extended spell of Murphy’s Law, which, as readers must know, states that ‘If something can go wrong, it will’. So, an abduction case he is solving goes awry; he is stripped of his job and packed off to jail under fabricated charges of corruption.

Upon release, he realises that his entire life is fast spiralling into a bottomless abyss of nothingness. In his absence, his wife, Ranjana (Nidhi Singh), whom he loves with his life, had to borrow cash from her employer, Dubeyji (Saanand Verma), to make ends meet. Dubeyji is now exploiting her sexually in return for the money she’s borrowed. Unless they return the man his seventy thousand rupees, Ranjana will have to keep giving in to his vile demands.

Salvation for the jobless and helpless Rudra appears in the form of Madhu Tyagi (Mahie Gill), second wife of sugar baron, Govind Tyagi (Sanjay Batra). Madhu asks him to kidnap her stepdaughter, Anusha (Monica Chaudhary), for a ransom of 1 crore, which will be divided among the three of them – Rudra, Madhu and…… Anusha! (Yes, she is party to the abduction ruse!). Rudra sets the ransom amount at 2 crores, and, in a side-splittingly hilarious sequence, manages to kidnap Anusha.

But as they say, the best laid plans of men and mice are no match for the all-powerful Murphy’s Law. Things go haywire pretty quickly from then on, and Rudra ends up with a dead body on his hands and a murder charge looming on the horizon. The entire police force is on his trail, as also is Laxman Saxena (Varun Badola), Govind Tyagi’s security-in-charge, and his buffoon goons.

The rest of the story is a series of eye-popping twists, nasty turns and baffling revelations, coupled with a unique cat-and-mouse chase, all of it culminating in a mind-boggling climax. While the concept is not new by any standards – we’ve seen it before in movies such as Khiladi and Khel Khel Mein – what makes Apaharan such a unique proposition is its execution. Following are its salient features – First up is the UP dialect. The UP dialect plays a spectacular role in the series; it is almost an entity in itself. Words such as humra, tumra, kahe, darogaji, etc., lend a remarkable flavour to the series, without which the story wouldn’t have had half the impact on viewers as it does, with them.

Granted, it is overly laden with cuss words of the most graphic kind, which made us cringe in horror at the beginning, yet, after watching a few episodes, we got so used to it that we couldn’t imagine the series without all those MCs and BCs peppering the narrative. At the end of it, the one significant conclusion we reached is this – if one wants to abuse, the North Indian dialect is definitely one’s linguistic vehicle of choice… *smiles with devilish glee*.

Next comes the distinctive use of peppy R D Burman and Bappi Da numbers of the seventies and eighties. These numbers convey the gist of the episode, and the sundry happenings and going-ons of the series so succinctly and effortlessly, that they render redundant the need for words. They express Rudra’s state of mind and current situation with such astonishing precision, that we are left marvelling at the ingenuity and deftness of the director and scriptwriters, in creating this flamboyant, outrageously exaggerated work of art.

Songs such as Ae ae ae ae phansaa, Duniya mein logon ko, Yeh mera dil, Mere pyaare balam, mere bhole balam, and many more, lend character and a certain intense essence to the proceedings, too elusive to put into words. This, in our opinion, is the most innovative use ever, of Bollywood’s rich musical repertoire.

The background music is brilliant too, imparting a feverishly racy tempo to the narrative. A very special mention needs to be made for the folk song, Nai Jaana, picturised on Monica Choudhary, and sung with a melting poignancy by Asees Kaur. Given the events of the latter half of the series, this beautiful number takes on a particularly haunting quality, sticking in the memory like superglue, refusing to let go. Once you’re done with watching this series, you will definitely look up this number on YouTube– take our word for it.

Next to take pride of place in the list of notables is the mighty, majestic Ganga. The river, in all its gloriously expansive length and breadth, is omnipresent throughout the series. Breath-taking aerial shots of the Ganga, mesmerizing views of the Laxman Jhula swaying over its ample swell, and memorable shots of its ghats leave the viewer awestruck. Its omnipresence is so absolute that it can safely be called a part of the ensemble cast of the series.

And now, the pièce de résistance – the dialogues. What gives Apaharan much of its oomph is the dialogues – by turns funny, offbeat, catchy and particularly inventive. The imagery, the startling analogies that Rudra pronounces at the start of every episode, the sparkling witticisms, the jocularity and the smart repartees – all of it comes together to create a powerful end product that grabs our attention and keeps it ensnared till the very end. Varun Badola deserves a round of applause for the brilliant dialogues. He has an alternate career beckoning, if he ever wants to take up writing full time.

The acting is top-notch and on point. Nidhi Singh wins our vote for giving an outstanding performance. She displays an endearing naïveté, with dialogue delivery that is spot on. Varun Badola is suitably sly, playing the security guy to perfection. Mahie Gill draws attention to her performance despite the minuscule role she has, while Monica Choudhary is terrific as Anusha. She puts across the vulnerability and helplessness of her character with a beguiling assuredness. Saanand Verma is hilarious. His antics and expressions will make you laugh out loud more than once.

However, it is Arunoday Singh who is the real revelation. He gets into the skin of the character he plays, taking on a persona that is as magnetic as it is convincing. He lends credence to his role, revelling in the portrayal of this larger-than-life character. He uses his furiously furrowed brow, piercing eyes and tall stature to devastating effect, keeping us invested in the drama unfolding on screen. At one point in the show, the monologue that he delivers over the phone to Govind Tyagi is reminiscent of Liam Neeson’s Taken speech – “I will find you and I will kill you” – only, it is delivered in UP Hindi. It is a bravura performance and one of his best ever. He gives a decisive twist to the quintessential ‘chhora Ganga kinare wala’ – a truly badass one at that.

Sidharth Sengupta’s direction is sharper than an ice-pick. He never lets the pace of the show slacken even for a second, steering the story with a deft, assured hand. With Aparahan, he’s given a new definition to edge-of-the-seat entertainer. Mohinder Pratap Singh has done a terrific job with the story and screenplay, giving a riveting spin to the age-old kidnap and murder drama.

Apaharan is an evocative piece of storytelling, brimming with exquisite humour and irony. It is not just a must watch, but qualifies as one of the very few web series worth a repeat watch. Watch it whenever you need a scintillating dose of the funny and the heartening. credits Apharan Sabka Katega with 4/5 stars.

(Written by Rashmi Paharia)