IWMBuzz reviews Laakhon Mein Ek Season 2, a powerful indictment of the deep-rooted corruption in public health care.

Indian audiences love the underdog. The advent of the angry young man, also the underdog, in the seventies and his unrelenting fight against the system, which almost always ended in his glorification, warmed the cockles of every Indian heart.

Tales of the triumph of the underdog, of the human spirit overcoming great odds, of common people taking on corrupt systems to emerge unlikely heroes – these stories are so moving and powerful that we’ve come to expect nothing less from the lead actors of our movies and shows. They give us the inspiration that even if the odds are stacked against us, we can and must fight back….and when we do, we’ll surely walk into the sunset with our heads held high.

Thanks largely to this triumph-of-the-underdog mind-set ingrained into our psyches by the quintessential Bollywood movie,we simply can’t fathom a scenario where the good guys lose.

Laakhon Mein Ek is that rare instance of storytelling that goes against this perceived formula of cinematic success. Its creator, well-known stand-up artist, Biswa Kalyan Rath, believes in telling it like it is. His stories make no attempt at sugar-coating the sordid reality of society,giving us no syrupy tales of victory. His protagonists do not walk into the sunset in the glorious aftermath of a fight well fought.

So it was with Laakhon Mein Ek Season 1, and so it is with Season 2, the next chapter of this compelling franchise. Produced by Only Much Louder (OML), and streaming on Amazon Prime, Laakhon Mein Ek is the labour of love of creator,Biswa Kalyan Rath, and director, Abhishek Sengupta.

In Laakhon Mein Ek Season 2, Biswa makes us introspect as hard with his gut-wrenching storytelling, as he makes us laugh with his outrageous stand-up comedy sets. Season 1 dealt with the desolate world of IIT coaching classes and the pressure cooker situation young students find themselves in to make it to their dream IIT. Biswa Kalyan Rath, being an IItian himself, drew from his personal experiences to showcase the dismal world inhabited by beleaguered IIT aspirants.

In Season 2 of Laakhon Mein Ek, Biswa steps out of his comfort zone to lay bare the deep-rooted corruption in the government medical system, and the ramifications of this corruption on the lowest rungs of society. Laakhon Mein Ek is a powerful indictment of the rot in the public health machinery of the government, a rot that goes so deep that it stands no chance of being stemmed, least of all by a chit of a girl, who, by the way, is our protagonist, Dr Shreya Pathare (Shweta Tripathi).

Dr Shreya Pathare’s story begins in the District Hospital of Sambhajinagar, a small town in Maharashtra, where she’s interning as a newly minted doctor. Her integrity and strength of character are established very early in the show, in first episode itself, when she has a run-in with the local MLA’s henchman. The run-in results in a punishment posting for her, a posting that no one else is ready to take up.

She’s despatched to the rural medical centre in the village of Sithlapur to conduct a cataract camp, without having the requisite experience required to conduct such a camp – a fact that is held against her when things go awry. Once in Sithlapur, Shreya encounters a plethora of issues that make conducting the camp an almost insurmountable task. Shreya, however, perseveres, despite the odds stacked against her. Over a period of 8 episodes of the gripping story, Dr Shreya fights her way through apathy, hostility, antagonism, deep-rooted mistrust of the government medical machinery, blind faith in the local quack, lack of supplies, and much more,to win the hearts of the villagers and embed affection and trust in their minds.

Along the way, we are introduced to the shocking sleaze at every juncture of the public health machinery. Almost every character we encounter is corrupt, even the ones that appear honest and sincere at first. It is a sordid set-up, commonplace for the players who pull the strings, but deeply unsettling for Shreya, given the moral high ground she is inclined to take. With a sinking feeling, you realize the tragedy that is about to hit.

But then there’s nothing anyone can do about it. The corruption in the system is so well-entrenched that it is just a matter of course for such tragedies to occur. We’ve seen it before in real life, in the government-conducted mass sterilization camp in Chhattisgarh, and in the Gorakhpur hospital tragedy in recent times. And yet, despite knowing the actual state of affairs in the country’s public health care system, watching it on screen hits hard, really hard.

By the time the series ends, the once bright-eyed and bushy-tailed doc has lost her will, her reputation, and finally, the fight itself. She stands alone, dejected and dishonoured, staring into the distance at a seemingly uncertain future. Laakhon Mein Ek doesn’t make things easy for us to digest by making the protagonist win, like other underdog movies do. By making Shreyalose, it delivers some unrelenting gut punches that few storytelling efforts are capable of.

There’s a moral victory element, yes, but nothing more than that. Inthe unholy nexus between corrupt politicians and unscrupulous suppliers, who are hand-in-glove with medical practitioners and sundry staff, it is Shreya who takes the ultimate fall. And oh yes, her Man Friday, Bhola (RupeshTillu), goes down along with her.

Amidst all the gloom, one thing stands out with shining luminosity, the only beacon in the darkness of the series – it is the absolutely heart-warming moment when Shreya’s team at Sithlapur, and also her colleague-cum-friend Ankit, stands up for her in her moment of truth. Despite knowing that they will be in grave trouble by disclosing the truth, neither Bholanor Ankitshies away from owning up to his deeds.

The first six episodes of the series are fun, light-hearted and infused with an optimistic joie-de-vivre.  But towards the last couple of episodes, the series takes on an ominous foreboding, leading towards a decidedly bleak ending.

Bleak is the most apt word to describe the series. But then, so is powerful. Lakhon Mein Ek is undoubtedly powerful, for it doesn’t fear calling a spade a spade. In the hedonistic, Instagram-influenced world of today, the series brims with profound moments that coax us to ponder on the realities of life. It yanks off our rose-coloured lenses and forces us to introspect with the utterly realistic and astonishingly accurate picture it draws of the corruption and malpractices prevalent in every sphere of government medical organizations.

We are left appalled by the unethical and corrupt practices in the medical profession, considered the most noble of all. At one point, Shreya too comes face to face with her foolhardiness of choosing to go with the rural internship –her partner, who’s taken up a cushy internship at a reputed hospital, has justbought a car and plans to fly off to the US of A, the ultimate land of dreams; while she is stuck in the back of beyond, caught in a vortex of red tapism and corruption. But idealistic doc that she is, she soldiers on, until her integrity causes everything to fall around her like a pack of cards.

The ensemble cast props up the plot line splendidly. Sandeep Mehta, as CMO, Dr Gopal Patwardhan; Pravina Deshpande, as Dr Madhavi; Suyash Joshi as the MLA’s goon-cum-henchman Raja Babu; Arun Nalawade, as the immoral supplier, Ishwar Mhatre, lend ample and admirable support. Rupesh Tillu is superb as the lovable hustler, Bhola. He elicits laughter and brings in a bit of humour into the show with his antics.

It is Shweta Tripathi, however, who catches and holds our attention. The show is narrated from her perspective, and she proves to be the lynch pin that she is. She brilliantly oscillates between optimism and desolation, effectively portraying the pathos of her character. She brings to the fore scores of facets in the course of the series – her gradual warming up to the posting she was loathe to accept in the beginning; her staring blankly into the pot in which she’s cooking Maggi, as she grieves the unnecessary loss of a life to the corrupt system; lighting up a ciggie whenever stress gets the better of her – her every nuance stands out in the starkness of the proceedings.

Shreya is grave, sincere, naïve and most definitely, fool-hardy. She is the fool that rushes in where none wants to tread. And Shweta brings out each facet brilliantly, moulding her acting chops to the demands of the script, without once sounding a false or pretentious note. Dr Shreya is the cog in the well-oiled wheel of corruption that runs society at large, a cog which makes nary a difference to the system were it to come undone. This unpalatable truth hangs heavy in the air towards the end, made all the more poignant by Shweta’s downcast eyes,slumped shoulders and utter dejection, which portraythe inevitability of the situation better than mere words could ever have.

Biswa Kalyan Rath plays an insignificant role of a nosy journalist. We had anticipated that he would be the crusading whistle-blower, exposing the rampant corruption. But then Biswa’s stories are never about crusaders. They are only about the common man (or woman) thrown into an unlikely situation where they have to make the best of the hand they’ve been dealt. So Biswa’s journalist is a mere rabble-rouser, on the lookout for a sensational story. It’s a nondescript role, one that could have been dispensed with entirely, with the narrative being none the poorer for it.

Abhishek Sengupta’s direction is vivid and intense – it feels like you’re watching the events take place right before your eyes. The normalcy and ordinariness of the scenes and its characters is realistic to the core. The narrative is gripping and stays so until the very end. The writers too have done a splendid job of plucking out realistic instances from everyday life and cleverly weaving them into the storyline. The parallels drawn between the Ramayan and the corruption-ridden system are outstanding. Hussain Haidry, Abhishek Sengupta and Biswa Kalyan Rath share writing credits. To their credit, they’ve kept the drama to a minimal, never going over the top with the histrionics, thus lending ample credence to the grim, dark story.

Laakhon Mein Ek Season 2, with its dark, desolate tale, may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But sip the tea you must, if only to see the other side of life, the ‘real’ side; the side that is far removed from the life we live,ensconced comfortably in our everyday, armchair-activism-laden, social media-influenced reality.

Meanwhile, we, at IWMBuzz, will go with a rating of 3.5/5 for Laakhon Mein Ek Season 2.

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