In the March of 2014, a Boeing 777 aircraft owned by Malaysian Airlines, disappeared from ATC radars 40 minutes after take-off on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Soon, the scheduled international passenger flight called MH 370 vanished without a trace, never to be seen again. Ever since, its disappearance has been a confounding mystery, more so for the fact that even its wreckage was never found, though, according to aviation experts, the aircraft must have crashed somewhere in the remote seas south of Australia.
Numerous conspiracy theories surrounding the incident abound, ranging from hackneyed ones such as alien abduction or a black hole swallowing the aircraft, to the more credible ones, such as terrorist hijacking or….pilot suicide.
The devastating incident had caught the collective imagination of people across the world, and continues to do so, even to this day. It’s been five years since the plane vanished from the face of this earth; yet, the bewildering tale continues to fascinate and intrigue.
Whatever be the reason for its disappearance, however, the fact remains that the greatest aviation mystery of all time presents terrific grist for compelling storytelling. Of course, any content centred on the tragedy is bound to be dark and disturbing.
The Final Call, the web series that started streaming recently on ZEE5, is an unsettling fictional account, unmistakeably constructed around MH 370’s disappearance. It is an adaptation of Priya Kumar’s 2015 novel, I Will Go With You, which ostensibly draws inspiration from the aforementioned incident. Even the aircraft mentioned in the novel, and the series, is a Boeing 777.
The Final Call, produced by Ajay and Vinamrata Rai for ZEE5, and directed by Vijay Lalvani, is an 8- episode series, of which 4 episodes have been released so far.
The series opens with the visuals of a passenger aircraft flying erratically in the clear blue skies over an island, swooping dangerously low and taking a trajectory that will irrefutably cause it to crash into the ocean or into the tall trees that populate the island. We watch with our heart in our mouth, but the scene changes and we are left wondering at the fate of the aircraft.
Cut to the present. Captain Karan Sachdev (Arjun Rampal) is a former Wing Commander of the Indian Air Force, and now, a pilot with a death-wish. Captain Sachdev is suffering from deep depression, a result of mental trauma from his stint with the armed forces, which is further compounded by the death of his wife and daughters in a car accident. He decides to end his life by consuming a deadly poison; only, he wants to do it in mid-air, while commanding SK 502, a Skyline Airlines Mumbai to Sydney flight with 300 passengers on board.
A grave twist of fate renders his plan askew, leading to the death of both, the co-pilot Abhimanyu (Harshad Arora) and the stand-by pilot of the plane; leaving a highly-strung Karan in sole charge of the cockpit. It’s a catch-22 situation for him. He knows he will be held culpable for the murder of the two pilots, despite it being a cruel twist of fate that led to their deaths. He shuts off all communication with the ATC, which raises their hackles. Enter ATC chief, Kiran Mirza (Sakshi Tanwar), who is also an ex-army officer, criminal psychologist and sundry other things. As she engages with Karan Sachdev, she realizes that all is not well with him. Kiran handles Sachdev with kid gloves, and tries to get him to land at Port Blair.
Meanwhile, as the narrative arc progresses, we are introduced to a motley bunch of characters – passengers on the ill-fated flight. Siddharth Singhania (Javed Jaffrey) is a business tycoon, in the throes of an existential crisis. He has money, fame and success; yet, his life feels devoid of meaning. He is in the middle of a divorce, and realizes that he has everything in life but happiness.
V Krishnamurthy (Neeraj Kabi) is an astrologer who is gifted with the uncanny ability to predict the future with mind-boggling precision. He is also exceedingly blasé about death; for him, life and death are two sides separated by a doorway. When you die, you simply move out from one side to go to the other side. He predicts that SK 502 will lead him to his death, yet takes the flight because it is his destiny.
Then there’s Sarah (Paula McGlynn), an Australian writer, who’s being two-timed by her boyfriend. Sitting on the adjacent seat is Dhruv Sehgal (Anshuman Malhotra), a 19-year old, aspiring footballer, who studies in Sydney on a football scholarship. Sarah and Dhruv share several lighter moments, providing much-needed comic relief in an otherwise edgy and anxiety-laden series.
Air Hostess Parineeta, aka Pari (Anupriya Goenka), is the vital link between Kiran Mirza and the passenger flight via the onboard satellite phone, but a belligerent Karan shatters the phone into pieces, effectively shutting down all communication. Goenka plays her part with poise and restraint.
The ensemble cast also includes Vipin Sharma, playing Anti-terrorism Squad chief Kale. Kale’s is a laughably amateurish character, who does nothing but rile Karan into going on a collision course with a passing aircraft.
The series is steeped in spirituality. Singhania and Krishnamurthy share profound talks on the meaning of life or the lack thereof. In fact, all of Krishnamurthy’s exchanges with his family members, and with Singhania, hinge on mysticism. The narrative is rife with hefty doses of spiritual gyaan and the significance of life and death, as Krishnamurthy elucidates on ghosts and the afterlife and rebirth.
In doing so, the series internalizes the real-life incident, giving it a spiritual turn and a peek into the hypothetical goings-on within the doomed flight. Several times in the narrative, the plot hits a discordant note. Why would Karan want to commit suicide in the cockpit, instead of within the confines of his home? It’s not like something triggered in his brain while he was flying the aircraft and he decided to end it all by crashing the plane into the ocean. He has the suicide planned to the T, poison capsules and all; so then why?
Another aspect of the story that galls is the fact that Krishnamurthy can predict a person’s life and death, precisely to the last four hours. Well, the scriptwriters need to know that that isn’t how astrology works. No astrologer, not even the very best that was ever born, could just look at a person’s birth chart and predict that he has but four more hours to live. That Krishnamurthy can do so is stretching it a bit….ok, not just a bit, but considerably.
There’s also a mysticism angle to Siddharth Singhania’s story that seems quite implausible. The tycoon is always in possession of a stone, which is supposed to be his lucky charm. The stone saves his life in his childhood and bestows luck on him that helps him become one of the biggest tycoons of the country; but as destiny would have it, he accidently leaves the stone behind in Mumbai when he boards the doomed flight. That, if we may say so, is one of the most juvenile plots, if not the most ridiculous, that we’ve come across in recent times.
Although riddled with inconsistencies, The Final Call keeps you glued to your seats, even as you wait with bated breath to find out what happens next. The series is imbued with a strange kind of allure that makes you want to keep watching, even as you marvel at the improbability of the storyline. And despite being gripped by a strange, depressive feeling, you yearn to watch further.
The series brings into sharp focus the psychological suffering that armed forces commandos may go through, owing to the blood of innocent civilians on their hands. It also takes a long hard look at the havoc that depression wreaks in a person’s life; how it scrambles the brains of an otherwise sharply intelligent person, and reduces him to a quivering, traumatised mental wreck.
Another thing about The Final Call that grabs attention is Sakshi Tanwar’s turn as Kiran Mirza. She has put in a blazingly brilliant performance as the plain-speaking ex-army officer. Every nuance she portrays stands out in the starkness of the proceedings. Her acting manages to lend a hint of credence to the implausible storyline. Sakshi’s acting is refined, restrained, and so on-point, that she owns the screen in every frame she features in.
Arjun Rampal excels in the brooding, angry young man role that suits his sharply chiselled face and imposing personality perfectly. His depressed-grieving-loner turn is so unnerving that you are hooked into his character graph. His character touches you in in a primal way, boring a hole into your soul, and shattering you from within.
Together, the two stalwarts, Tanwar and Rampal, manage to elevate this otherwise-average series into a dark, enigmatic drama that unveils the complexities of the human brain. The grim, dark story is slow and depressing, yet compelling. It sears you in the insides, hits you squarely in the solar plexus and takes you unawares.
A special mention goes for Neeraj Kabi. His is a character that is singularly unique, and Kabi makes the most of it. He sinks his teeth into the meaty role and relishes it to the hilt.
It remains to be seen how the future episodes unravel. As the series hurtles towards an electrifying climax, we can’t help but hope that SK 502 doesn’t end up where the real MH 370 did. In the depths of the deep, blue sea.
IWMBuzz rates The Final Call 2.5, the extra .5 for the superlative acting.
(Written By Rashmi Paharia)