A week after the disastrous Ardha Shathabdham, Aha is back with its latest offering, In The Name of God (ING). Although In the Name of God doesn’t quite reach the nadir in the chasm of Telugu webspace, the lethargic writing ensures it comes close. The seven-episode series begins on a promising note. The first episode, in fact, sets up a deliciously gritty premise. A young Meena (Nandini Rai), who is in a loveless marriage with a much older Ayyappa (Posani Krishna Murali), invites her lover Thomas (Vikas) over to have sex.
The show opens with Meena smoking pot and walking out of a smoke-filled kitchen while Ilayaraja’s Regutunnadhoka Raagam from Dance Master plays in the background. These are traces of swag filmmaking, I felt; the smoke was an intimation of the flaws it concealed, I realised later. As Meena and Thomas start making out, to their dismay, they are curtly interrupted by the arrival of Ayyappa. This ignites the proceedings and later becomes the central point for multiple half-baked threads, which doesn’t really add up at the end of what becomes a tedious watch.
The introduction of these shallow characters, although uninspiring, is functional in the first episode. Set in Rajamundry, the primary character Aadhi (Priyadarshi Pulikonda) is a lower-caste youth who aspires to own a resort. The foul-mouthed Ayyappa is a B-grade filmmaker who reduces his wife just as a means to satisfy his sexual needs. The wall posters in the weedsmoking Thomas’ room scream “COOL DUDE”. Throw in Thomas’ criminal acquaintance, a shady Rossi (Mohammad Ali Baig), whose annoying dubbing and nonsync dialogue delivery only add to the temper-testing exercise this series subjects us to.
There’s also Fakir (Uma Maheshwar Rao), the kind of focused gangster who will give money-related directions to his aids even while carrying his collapsed daughter who’d just attempted suicide. We are never really invested or concerned about these one-note characters, and that, naturally, extrapolates in apathy seeing these characters in life-threatening situations. With the series going haywire from the third episode, we become cold observers to the series moving from one banal plot point to another. A crime drama is a genre best served with blurred moral barriers.
However, the characters of In the Name of God can be easily segregated into binaries-the senescent ‘good and bad’ duality. By the time a false imputation compels an innocent Aadhi to turn to the dark side after being quiescent for three episodes, it’s of no effect. That being said, In the Name of God is not frivolous in its entirety. Far from being called mediocre, there are glimpses of the stylish, violent crime drama this could have been. The ending of the first episode instigates real tension when Ayyappa finds about his wife’s affair. Likewise, there is a great ‘mass’ moment involving a jeep towards the end of the third episode, that coincides with the genesis of Aadhi’s transformation.
There’s also a recurring conversation on Aadhi’s sexual impotency. Once again, it could have made for an interesting point had the writers explored Aadhi’s insecurity a little more instead of restricting it to dirty, offensive blague. This angle, coupled with Aadhi’s transformation remains the story’s most interesting facet, and the introduction of Indira (Sai Priyanka Ruth), adds to the complexity. However, like other aspects, this too gets lost under aimless writing. Moreover, it’s a show that mistakes excessive usage of swearing for boldness. What it lacks in emotion, In the Name of God tries to recompense in expletives, and the resultant is an overwhelming volume of curse words.
Had the series ended with the third episode on an unfinished note, it would have still made for a more gratifying conclusion, but writing panders in a rigmarole for four more episodes. It takes a substantial time to build up towards a meaningful ending. The twists don’t land due to this very facet. We get the sense of dichotomy; a pure person choosing the path of violence while the bad one seeks redemption. Akin to other characters, Meena’s character also has a terrific starting point. While it’s good to see every major character get an arc, the endings are consistently blatant.
As we navigate questions with uninspiring answers, the series ends on a poor excuse of a twist. For a series that is titled In the Name of God, you may expect a veiled commentary on religion. This too exists as a trickle. We have a Muslim, Christian, and Hindu chasing money. Strip them of their religion, and it wouldn’t have influenced the story in the tiniest degree. ‘In the Name of Lust’ or ‘In the Name of Money’ would have been befitting titles. But, in the name of god, a change of name is the least of this series’ problems. But a rose by any other name would smell just the same.
IN THE NAME OF GOD
CAST: Priyadarshi, Nandini Rai, Posani Krishna Murali and others
DIRECTOR: Vidyasaagar Muthukumar
STREAMING ON Aha