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Weekend Recommendation: Undekhi, Rudra, Mithya

Three shows across three different genres for you to binge watch

Suparna Sharma Mar 11, 2022
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Undekhi (Season 1 & 2)

undekhi

Stop what you are doing and watch Rinku Paaji in Undekhi, with the caveat that… 

Cast: Surya Sharma, Harsh Chhaya, Dibyendu Bhattacharya, Anchal Singh, Ankur Rathee, Ayn Zoya, Apeksha Porwal, Vaarun Bhagat

Direction: Siddharth Sengupta

Rating: ★★★½

Streaming on SonyLiv

I don’t get it. I just don’t. There was so much gaping-jaw fawning and gushing over Jaideep Ahlawat’s performance as Hathiram Chaudhary in Pataal Lok, but there’s nothing in that realm of hyperventilation over Surya Sharma’s performance as Rinku aka Rajendra Singh Atwal in Undekhi 1, and now 2.

Don’t get me wrong. Ahlawat’s performance was fabulous, and all the adulation and love he got was very well deserved. But the silence over Surya Sharma’s Rinku is strange. Maybe it’s to do with the heft of OTT platforms or production houses’ marketing budgets. Whatever it is, it’s sad. 

I completely missed Season 1 of Undekhi which dropped in 2020. So last weekend, when Season 2 dropped, I finished all 20 episodes of Season 1 and 2 in one ass-turning-to-stone binge session because of Rinku Paaji, the most compelling villain written in India in a while, and one who will outlive the series. It’s a performance worthy of many awards and discussions.

Undekhi’s story is completely believable despite the fact that it takes off with a flight of fancy which originates in Sundarbans and lands in Manali. Two gorgeous adivasi girls come to Manali to dance at the stag party of Daman Atwal (Ankur Rathee).

Daman is the foreign-returned dim son of the great Atwal aka Papaji (Harsh Chaya). Papaji controls the timber and drug business in Manali, and all operations are controlled and run by Rinku (Surya Sharma), his nephew. Papaji depends and dotes on Rinku, and Rinku treats Papaji as his guru and God who must be respected, and must never be hassled, ever.

Daman is about to get married to Teji (Anchal Singh) at Rinku’s massive Manali resort. All is going well until Papa Atwal shoots a dancing girl in drunken boredom.

This incident, witnessed by many, requires a cover-up, which in turn triggers lots of people and lots more gruesome incidents follow.

Unfortunately for all living creatures inside the resort, one member of the shaadi‘s videography team records the murder, the cover-up and wants to do the right thing. Just the thought that his always drunk and always abusing Papaji may have to go to jail makes Rinku go totally mental.

His high-bonkers state of being sets off a chain of events that involve kidnapping, shooting, Rinku’s most trusted lieutenant Lucky (Vaarun Bhagat), DSP Barun Ghosh from West Bengal (Dibyendu Bhattacharya), rivalries in the drug business, Teji’s devious plans and a string of murders, most of them on the Manali highway. Oh, and the tribal girl who survives, turns into Lady Tarzan. She leaps about, climbs trees and kills her prey by going for the jugular.

All this, of course, requires corrupt local cops, humans being held in cages and vicious guard dogs, a drug cartel couple in Israel (the male is played by Tom Alter’s son, Jamie), a pharma guy who manufactures drugs, a curious mobile repair shop owner and a pliable media house. 

Written by Varun Badola, Umesh Padalkar, Mohinder Pratap Singh and Siddharth Sengupta, Undekhi is about family loyalties and how far one can go to honor those. Since Undekhi is directed by Siddharth Sengupta of Balika Vadhu fame, it has a nice saas-bahu track. One bahu is the obedient Mummyji-Mummyji type, while the other is Ms Hoity-Toity and is hated by saas, sasur and all others. 

Women in this series are not out of the game of crime. Teji is treacherous and plots to destroy the Atwals, and Saloni (Ayn Zoya), a very modern, hip young businesswoman is entirely greed-driven and always eager to sell her soul and a friend or two for a few crores.  

Undekhi‘s plot is just one disaster tumbling into the next and then the next… This unrelenting string of syappas works because the show has excellent performances by all.

Though Apeksha Porwal, who looks like a sultry beauty in a Prabuddha Dasgupta frame, is miscast as an adivasi, she does a commendable job of lurching, leaping and biting.  Harsh Chhaya, who has over the years fallen into the same-old-slimy-guy routine, completely reinvents himself with a glass of whisky, crazy hair, a hunched back and the foulest mouth of all Papajis ever. He is really quite fabulous. Hat-tip!

Dibyendu Bhattacharya as the soft-spoken Bengali cop is the only one who strikes a note of calm and decency in this loud and bloody chaotic Punjabi world where gaalis are like punctuation marks. Vaarun Bhagat who plays Lucky with a half-shaved head and a top knot deserves a special mention. His facial muscles are so taut that it looks like his face has six-pack abs of its own.

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But the show’s hero is the villainous Rinku who is powered by three simple emotions — undying loyalty, unrelenting chaud and being a risk junkie. He is wholly, solely devoted to Papaji and will do anything for him. If anyone crosses his path or Papaji’s, or cheats him in business, he won’t rest till that person rests in peace. He has no fear. Rinku, at once a raees-zada and exuding scary murderous power, is unfazed by authority — in business or in uniform — and doesn’t react well to threats.

Surya Sharma plays Rinku with a shaved head, a bushy moustache and a body language so sharp and minimal that often he doesn’t need to say anything. Just a twitch in his face or body is enough to convey what he is feeling and what his instructions are.  He is a big, burly guy who towers over others, especially the wimpy and annoying Daman and Saloni. He uses that physicality to enlarge the span of his fearsome aura.

At the end of Undekhi, I really felt as if Rinku is the don of Manali.  I’d say drop everything and watch Rinku and Papaji in Undekhi 1& 2, with the caveat that the show has the most and the worst Hindi abuses of any series I have seen till date. And I have watched everything that Anurag Kashyap has ever made. 

Rudra: The Edge of Darkness

rudra ajay devgn

A competent but soulless photocopy of Luther

Cast: Ajay Devgn, Raashi Khanna, Esha Deol, Atul Kulkarni, Ashish Vidyarthi, Satyadeep Mishra, Milind Gunaji, Luke Kenny

Direction: Rajesh Mapuskar

Rating: ★★½

Streaming on Disney+ Hotstar

There is nothing offensive about the six-part series, Rudra. It is a well-made, legit photocopy of the British thriller series, Luther. And yet it is also very artificial, simulated and soulless.

That one starred Idris Alba as Luther; the desi one has Ajay Devgn playing Rudra. That one belonged to its setting. All its characters, cops and criminals, felt like creatures organic to London, as did the crimes. The desi one feels like it’s saying, “I can walk English, I can talk English, I can laugh English.”

Usually, when production houses from a faraway world acquire the rights to a story set in another world, they tweak a few things to ground the story. Local flavour is infused for the milieu and characters to have an authentic, identifiable ring.  Take the American series The Killing, and the Danish original Forbrydelsen, for example. The Nordic noir wasn’t just uprooted and planted in Seattle. Its main character’s American version, Sarah Linden, had to be made lighter, warmer, and a lot of time and effort went into etching out the lead character’s second-in-command, Stephen Holder (played brilliantly by Joel Kinnaman). Holder had a past life, a volatile temper and this man of dubious short-cuts and a throbbing heart was a big reason why The Killing worked. Like all good characters, Holder has outlived the series.

In Rudra there are no changes at all. Devgn is expected to play Idris Alba’s Luther, in Hindi. But Devgn is not Alba, and Mumbai is not London.

Rudra opens on an artificial note made worse by dark, brooding CGI. We first meet DCP Rudra when he is, like Luther, trying to rid the world of a paedophile. It’s on his droopy and tired shoulders that the burden of keeping the moral order of the world rests. He is lonely, loves his wife and won’t let a crime go unpunished. He is also a loyal friend who sometimes makes bad decisions.

We want to and have every reason to like him. But we are not emotionally connected to him.

With his first double murder case, Rudra acquires a stalker — Dr Aliyah Choksi, the child prodigy turned psychopath lady. Aliyah wears a terrible wig in imitation of Alice Morgan’s orange hair. Except that the wig’s colour is purple here, till it is not.  Considering what she was given, Raashi Khanna does a commendable job as Aliyah, though Esha Deol pretty much murders the fabulous character of Zoe (Mrs Luther) by being perennially irritated. When she’s telling Rudra that it’s all over between them and that she’s been cohabiting with another gentleman, and when a psycho holds a sharp knife to her throat, Esha Deol tackles both situations with the same I’m-so-irritated expression. 

The office of the special unit, led by Commissioner Deepali Handa (Ashwini Kalsekar), looks like a well-appointed and airless corporate office. It’s all blinds-and-glass cubicles around a well in which a pool of juniors sit at computers doing god knows what. 

Despite all this the show doesn’t bore because of Ajay Devgn’s star power and the crimes. Serial killers and female victims, cop killers, a paedophile, corruption in the police force are all intriguing crimes and we want to see each one resolved.  

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Since his very first film, Phool Aur Kante in 1991, Devgn has been able to project emotions on the big screen without saying much. It’s that special skill and power that has given him star status. He has also given us a few glimpses of his acting calibre. 

Stars have a stickiness to them. They keep us glued to the screen. And the makers of Rudra are depending almost entirely on that.

Devgn is made to play Idris Alba’s Luther because they couldn’t be bothered tweaking the character a bit to give it some flesh and bones.  Devgn’s Rudra has no personality. He is like a brooding, hung-over aatma lurking inside a brown jacket, and yet Devgn makes us stick with the show because of his star power. 

Even all around him the characters are one-dimensional except for the friend who turns foe. Rudra’s main flunkey, in fact, has only one dialogue for a long time — “On it sir.” It was comical to predict when he was going to say, “On it sir” next.

It’s almost impossible to imagine Luther as anyone other than Idris Alba. It’s quite easy to imagine Rudra being played by any other Bollywood actor or star.

Rudra is not bad. It’s glitzy, has a decent production valuebut it is hollow inside. It left me craving for Idris Alba’s lion-in-a-long-overcoat swag that, even after 12 years, retains its power.

Mithya

mithya huma qureshi

Bat-shit crazy student stalks teacher for reason unknown 

Cast: Huma Qureshi, Avantika Dassani, Parambata Chatterjee, Rajit Kapoor, Avantika Akerkar, Samir Soni, Indraneil Sengupta

Direction: Rohan Sippy

Rating: ★★★

Streaming on Zee5

Mithya, a six-part series directed by Rohan Sippy, is based on the 2019 British drama, Cheat. Set in and around a college in a misty and wooded Darjeeling, it’s a psycho-drama involving Juhi (Huma Qureshi), a Hindi professor who is married to Neil Adhikari (Parambata Chatterjee), who is also a professor, a student and a secret.

Juhi and Neil are trapped in a dull marriage where both are unhappy, but not enough to walk out. Juhi’s mother and father, a retired English professor who has a daunting reputation and presence in their life, live close by. Juhi is happy in her job and with her cat, and it’s only to please Neil that she makes some half-hearted attempts to get pregnant. But on certain mornings she finds herself getting aroused in the college corridor, while talking to a dashing English professor. 

Juhi calls out a student for plagiarizing an essay because she feels Rhea (Avantika Dassani) doesn’t have the depth of knowledge or even the language to write it. Despite Rhea’s teary-eyed plea, Juhi, proud of being upright and a stickler for rules, fails her. 

Rhea doesn’t sulk. Instead she begins to weave a web around Juhi. She paints her as a vengeful professor who is after her for no valid reason, and simultaneously stalks her, upending parts of her life in brutal, vicious ways. 

Apart from the few times Rhea visits her strangely cold daddy who wears a tie and a fitted waistcoat even at home to give the rich businessman vibe, she devotes all her dark energy into making Juhi’s life miserable. 

We get that Rhea is obsessed with Juhi, and it could perhaps be because she failed her in one paper. But is that reason enough to go bat-shit crazy?

In plots about stalkers and stalkees, it’s a given that the stalker will be smarter and better organised than those who are being stalked. They will also keep making fatal mistakes.  

Mithya is nicely plotted. The story moves when the stalker makes a move.  Rhea’s crazy obsession and the mystery behind it makes her viciousness shocking and compelling.

Each episode of the series opens with Juhi and Rhea talking to each other across a jail’s mulakat-room mesh. It’s not made clear who is in the jail and who is visiting. But these black and white episodic conversations add to the mystery.

Apart from a few bizarre bits and unbelievable scenes, like Rhea’s fanciest hostel room ever, the affair she initiates, and the whole college setup which I didn’t quite get, Rohan Sippy sticks to the original plot, but deviates when necessary to give Mithya‘s misty setting a moody, believable tone.  

Mithya has a very decent cast. But the two actors who carry the series on their shoulders are Avantika Dassani as the crazy stalker girl, and lovely Huma Qureshi’s not-at-all-helpless Juhi who becomes a hapless victim of Miss Loony Tunes. 

Watch Mithya for Dassani’s creepy stalker act, and for Qureshi’s superb performance as being the victim, but never playing the victim.

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