- The release of The Godfather. The genre of crime thrillers has never been the same again.
To say that The Godfather left a lasting impression on the collective psyche of movie-goers would be making an understatement. The iconic movie has not only ruled the minds of millions, it has sub-consciously coloured all content made on gangsters and gang wars since.
Yet, masterpieces are made but once. Try as one might, not a single piece of content has stood up to the calibre of The Godfather. Not then, in the last century. Not now, in the present. Many have tried, yes; but alas, all have failed.
Smoke, Eros Now’s latest web series, and yet another crime thriller to hit the Indian web space after a surfeit of offerings in the same genre, suffers from a hangover that is distinctly Godfather-esque. The feel, the setting, the ethos, all point towards the mother of all gang-war movies ever made. Smoke also seems to be influenced by Narcos, the seminal Netflix offering that chronicles Mexico’s drug wars and the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar, the infamous Colombian drug baron, and The Wire, inarguably, one of the best TV series ever made on crime and the drug menace.
Set in Goa, Smoke also deals with crime, drugs and the power struggle between rival gangs to rule the massive drugs business of Goa. But that’s where its similarity with the aforementioned magnum opuses ends. And the disparity begins. While the storyline of Smoke is quite intriguing and attention-grabbing, its pace is what renders the show toothless and ineffective. The story unspools over a span of 11 overlong, meandering episodes, taking its own sweet time to develop into something concrete and worthwhile.
Moshe Barak (Tom Alter) is a drug lord of Russian origin, settled in Goa, and ruling the Goan drug trade with a ruthless hand. Bhau Satham (Prakash Belawadi) is the local crime lord and runs a rival drug cartel, enjoying as much, if not more, clout as Barak. The series opens with the murder of a couple of Bhau’s associates and the heist of a box meant to be delivered to Barak. Both realise that there’s an external threat to their unchallenged reign in Goa from a Russian Mafioso called Duman, and agree to join hands to beat Duman back. The show is riddled with shootings, murders and violence, thus proving to be a treat for fans of this genre of content.
The plot goes through numerous twists and turns, and is so complex and winding that you have to keep your eyes peeled to the screen to follow the story; you lose track if you so much as blink. And no, we’re not exaggerating. Smoke is littered with characters, and the story jumps from one track to another without warning. You get the lingering feeling that most of the characters are superfluous and not integral to the plot. Smoke gives you the distinct impression that once it was green-lit, the makers went on a character signing spree, looking to cram as many edgy actors into the series as they could lay their hands on. Have budget, will spend, seemed to be their reigning mantra in cramming all those actors into the show. Not required at all, in our opinion.
The plot goes through numerous twists and turns, and is so complex and winding that you have to keep your eyes peeled to the screen to follow the story; you lose track if you so much as blink. And no, we’re not exaggerating. Smoke is littered with characters, and the story jumps from one track to another without warning
There’s Mandira Bedi, playing Tia Barak, Moshe Barak’s wife; Kalki Koechlin plays Tara, a DJ and Barak’s mistress; Neil Bhoopalam plays Savio, a deaf and mute chef; Jim Sarbh plays Roy, Barak’s driver-cum-loyal sidekick; Amit Sial plays Pushkar, Bhau’s son; Gulshan Devaiah plays Jairam Jha, aka JJ, a contract killer from Bihar, and hired by Bhau to see through the threat to his fiefdom.
Luke Kenny plays an indiscernible character, tipping Roy off with important information; Satyadeep Mishra plays ACP Pereira, the cop hot on the heels of both sets of gang leaders; GirishKulkarni plays the CM of Goa, a man on a mission to rid his state of the drugs menace.
And this is just the surface. There’s a whole bunch of characters, appearing in one episode, and getting bumped off in the next. Such a complex set of characters, coupled with the slow, languid pace, makes Smoke quite a tedious watch, especially in the first few episodes. Things perk up a bit and even get more streamlined, with the entry of Gulshan Devaiah sometime after the second episode.
Neel Guha, as the director of the show, has done a pretty decent job of helming the complex story. Vijay Maurya’s dialogues are the highlight of the show. Ayush Raina gets credit for writing the story, and Upendra Sidhaye, the screenplay. Brownie points to the director for steering clear of the done-to-death visuals of Goa. The Goa we see in Smoke is a far cry from the verdant greenery, pristine beaches and blue seas we’re so used to watching. In Smoke, we get to see the real Goa- with its dark underbelly, its drug-induced languor and sleazy club scene.
Yes; Goa, as the setting for the show, is ideal; but it also gives you a strong feeling of déjà vu. It hasn’t been that long since we saw Zero Kms, another crime and murder thriller that was set in Goa. That show too had featured Satyadeep Mishra, albeit as the antagonist. His presence here adds to the feeling of familiarity, as though you’re watching something you’ve already seen before.
That notwithstanding, it is the trio of Jim Sarbh, Amit Sial and Gulshan Devaiah that breathes life into the series. All three bring their stamp of individual panache to their roles, and rise above the patchiness of the story. Their acting is outstanding and worth watching the show for. Mandira Bedi, Neil Bhoopalam and Kalki Koechlin are clearly wasted in their roles. Believe us when we tell you – the characters they play could have been enacted by any of the scores of upcoming actors the industry teems with. Why recruit actors of their calibre, and then waste them in two-bit roles with zero weightage in the grander scheme of things, is beyond our understanding.
That said, Smoke shows flashes of brilliance in some parts and utter mediocrity in others. It oscillates between enthralling and tedious, leaving the audience floundering with indecisiveness about whether to continue watching till the end in the hope of a spectacular finale, or leave the series unwatched halfway, to continue watching at a later date, when one is mellower and more forgiving of its glaring flaws.
Nevertheless, Smoke is a show tailor-made for die-hard fans of the crime and thriller genre. They will definitely enjoy this sex, crime and gore-laden offering from Eros Now. For those that find their web solace in slice-of-life shows, give Smoke a wide berth; there’s nothing in it for you.
We, at IWMBuzz, would rate Smoke 2.5/5.
(Written by Rashmi Paharia)