Undekhi (SonyLIV, Applause Entertainment)
Starring Dibyendu Bhattacharya, Harsh Chhaya, Abhishek Chauhan, Surya Sharma, Ankur Rathee, Ayn Zoya, Anchal Singh
Created by Siddharth Sengupta
Directed by Aashish Shukla
Rating: **** ½
There is something strangely seductive about unfinished stories. Just when I thought the relentlessly gripping treatise on power and exploitation was wrapping up its themes, suddenly a pedophile policeman appears in the show.
Heck, what do we need him for at this point?! I thought it was just adding more “statement” to the utterly engaging story. But no. It is a befitting endgame to this excruciatingly exhilarating journey that takes us from upheaval in the violent heartland of India to a kind of tentative redemption at the end that doesn’t qualify as hope. It is more like one straggly beam of light in a dark tunnel.
I must admit I came away with despair from the ten episodes of Undekhi. But it is not end-of-the-world despair but the despair of waiting for the beginning of a new era when, hopefully, the super-rich in our country would understand that wealth and the accompanying power comes with a responsibility towards the weaker sections.
The arrogance of unlimited wealth is on full display as the Atwal family prepares in scenic Manali for the Big Fat ‘Greed’ Wedding of their heir apparent Daman (Ankur Rathee, suitably lost and wimpish) to his girlfriend Teji (Anchal Singh) who before the series clambers to a kickass climax, will display unexpected pluck in taking on her sociopathic in-laws.
While the patriarch of the family (Harsh Chhaya, embodying the high spirits of the Capitalist Pig) embarrasses himself and the family with his loutish behavior, it is his nephew Rinku who runs the show, in more ways than one. While the character is the kingpin of the series’ well-appointed crime syndicate, the actor Surya Sharma who plays Rinku presides over the narrative at though it was inherited property. Sharma is absolutely chilling in the way he normalizes crime and treats women like vassals, and vessels. Fill ‘em up!
Sharma nails the character and gives the series a seriously breathless spin. The series’ dramatic core and power thrust emerge from a point-blank killing during wedding festivities recorded by a shocked Delhite Rishi (Abhishek Chauhan) who it turns out, is the only one at the wedding with a conscience. While he runs for his life his colleague Saloni (Ayn Zona) happily fucks for the bucks with Rinku in scenes that are savagely funny.
In the sequence where she departs the scene of the crime for good Rinku compares her to “Dubai ke raand”(the whores of Dubai). Saloni doesn’t flinch. She can see what she has become.
My favourite character in this meticulously carved tale of crime and little punishment is a Bengali cop DCP Ghosh (Dibyendu Bhattacharya, bemusingly laconic) who loves Hindi films and songs, is equally partial to shootings of films and guns, and hates unsolved crimes. His heroic character kind of flattens out midway, all the quips and bravado fade as Ghosh becomes a victim of a system that pimps itself to the highest bidder.
The series plays out partly like a news report and partly like an allegory on exploitation. As a tribal girl (Apeksha Porwal, a bit too groomed) runs for her life in the jungles she reminded me of Smita Patil in Ketan Mehta’s Mirch Masala. Except that the villain pursuing the damsel in distress is far more dangerous than the caricatured Subedaar in Mirch Masala.
Undekhi is a mirror of our times. It sometimes reaches dead ends in its plot construction but the writers expertly steer the plot out of sticky situations. They know better than the characters that much, as we’d like, good guys don’t always win.