It’s always unwise to invoke Baazigar so blatantly. Abbas–Mustan’s film is a classic, a thriller that burned a grotesque love sign in the 90s zeitgeist. It had race cars, grifters in masks, murderous rooftops, bodies in bags. It had the soul of a dark and bottomless pit. To pinch a pretty title from that film—and not match its feral spirit—is almost criminally wrong.
Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein opens with a grubby-looking man in hiding. “Three things can ruin a man—money, power and a woman,” says Vikrant (Tahir Raj Bhasin). We see flashes from Vikrant’s childhood, then jump ahead to his youth. Only recently, he was an ordinary engineering graduate, in love with Shikha (Shweta Tripathi) and wanting to settle down. Why, then, does he have a gun now ....and looks like Chandrachur Singh from Gulzar’s Maachis?
That query has already been answered. As a kid, naughty Vikrant accepted candy from a smiling classmate but not her request for friendship. The girl, Purva (Anchal Singh), reappears years later, seeking recompense. She’s a Zumba instructor (which isn’t relevant) and the daughter of a local politician (which is). Vikrant’s father is an accountant at Purva’s dad’s, which complicates matters. What also complicates matters is the creepy escalation of her demands. First she wants Vikrant to escort her to the dam, then to manage her classes, and finally, as such things go, to marry her.
Vikrant is henpecked by Purva, who seems to get her way. Her father (Saurabh Shukla) and brother (Surya Sharma) make little of caste differences; in fact, they leverage it for political gains. “You’re screwed,” Vikrant is told. He is clearly in danger, a fact that registers with no one else but him. His parents—played by Brijendra Kala and Sunita Rajwar—are comic characters, and so is his best friend Golden. Not that the villains are exceptionally bright. From time to time, they cut Vikrant loose, calling him ‘jija ji’ and unable to see through his plans.
There are three violent set pieces—all set to music. It signals ambition on the part of writer-director Sidharth Sengupta, though not enough skill. The dialogue (by Varun Badola) echoes bad Tarantino, the kind where serious mob conversations are interrupted by stale asides on dating apps. The internet is brought up often: Facebook, dark web, crypto. This, too, becomes a problem. In a town this digitally aware, it’s absurd anyone can keep down secrets. The story jumps from Bhopal to New Delhi to Ladakh.
The main city, Onkara, is fictional, as has become norm in many Netflix India titles set in the north. The reason is plain: northern small-towns are a powder keg of political controversy, and the streamer is probably playing it safe by opting for fictional worlds. Yet, it comes at a cost. Crime dramas necessitate a sense of place. Onkara not only sounds bogus, it feels as neutered as Haseen Dillruba’s Jwalapur and Aranyak’s Sironah.
If Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein has a grace note, it’s its leading man. Tahir Raj Bhasin made his name playing crazy antagonists; his dramatic roles, including Derek in Chhichhore and Sunil Gavaskar in the recent 83, are proving more interesting. Tahir is charming as Vikrant, a man reduced to desperate last measures and a low, quivering voice. The show is really about him; the female characters drift apart and become magnetic poles in his story.
“I’m not mad,” Purva tells Vikrant. “I’m just possessive.” The line is said with a directness usually reserved for male heroes. Yet psychology isn’t the point here. The scene exists so a new cliffhanger can be added and the plot stretched out a little further. The show is not bad, it’s just too digressive.
Series: Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein
Cast: Tahir Raj Bhasin, Shweta Tripathi, Anchal Singh, Brijendra Kala,
Streaming on: Netflix