By Prerana Panja
Let me give you a disclaimer before we begin, Anushka Sharma’s Paatal Lok is not a show you watch leisurely, to unwind, it requires you to pay close attention, the devil is in the details, you blink and you’ll find yourself lost in the storyline.
Looking at the story from a surface level, it might remind of Netflix’s Sacred Games, given the crime and injustice plot. But as you go further you realise perhaps in an attempt to compete with Netflix’s Sacred Games, Paatal Lok has outdone themselves.
At the beginning of the story, we’re introduced to Inspector Hathi Ram Chaudhary(Jaideep Ahlawat) who is giving a wise guy lecture to his subordinates on how the universe is divided into three parts. He says first there is Swarg Lok (heaven, where the rich resides), Dharti Lok (Earth, where the middle class belong) and Paatal Lok (netherworld, where crime, oppression and social evils create their own contorted version of hell). He compares the Outer Jamuna Paar Police Station, where he is posted to be one of the Paatal Lok where your career is mostly filled with regrets and few to none opportunities of career progression.
In the next scene, four people are arrested after what we’re told was a failed assassination attempt on prominent journalist Sanjeev Mehra(Neeraj Kabi). The four people are named Vishal Tyagi(Abhishek Banerjee), Mary Lyngdoh (Mareibam Ronaldo), Tope Singh (Jagjeet Sandhu) and Kabir M (Aasif Khan). Chaudhary has been assigned the case much to his superior Vrik’s (Anurag Arora) reluctance, and he doesn’t waste a moment to accept it as its the first big case he’s gotten in years.
What looked like a simple open and shut case initially, keeps getting more and more complex as the police get closer to the solution. Evidence is manipulated and leads start to disappear.
We come to know about the four accused and their respective pasts. Things get interesting after the seventh episode when Chaudhury lands up in the Badlands of UP, Chitrakoot. As the story unravels, we come to know of the Gujjar brothers and their possible involvement in the case, one of whom is the most wanted Daquit of UP whom no one has seen before.
The writers of the film, Sudip Sharma, Sagar Haveli, Hardik Mehta and Gunjit Chopra have done justice to the characters, be it the main characters or the secondary, each character has its own character arc.
Apart from being a crime drama at the centre, the series touches upon plenty of social evils such as castism, classicism, poverty, religion and gender-based oppression. As per the storyline, all four accused have faced some or the other kind of oppression in their lifetime which has lead them to who they are today and it compels you to rethink the impact these evils have on the birth of a criminal. Although all four accused have committed crimes in their lifetimes, their stories will have you empathize with them. The series’s mythological references through which the writers draw a parallel between real life and mythology is also impressive.
Through all these twists and turns, the directors have you arrive at a place where you start questioning whether everything you’ve been told up until now in the story is actually false. Was it a failed assassination attempt on Sanjeev Mehra or was it a failed assassination attempt on Tyagi himself, the alleged assassin.
There isn’t a single off place performance by the cast and Jaideep Ahlawat’s performance in the series might just be his finest work till date. Imran Ansari(Ishwak Singh) who is Hathi Ram’s subordinate and confidant is a stark contrast from the loud, aggressive personality of Chaudhary. He is quiet, well-read and calm in a crisis and performance is also a standout.
The directors, Avinash Arun and Prosit Roy don’t try and sugarcoat the reality of the system and keep their directing basic, nothing too flashy or distracting. The cinematography, costume design and editing all come together to make a wonderful experience.
Paatal Lok is a telling tale of the justice system in India. As DCP Bhagat (Vipin Sharma) aptly says to Hathi Ram in one of the scenes “Yeh system jo hai na Chaudhary, dur se sada gala kache ke dher lagta hai. Lekin andar ghuske samjhoge na, well oiled machinery hai. Har purze ko maloon hai usse kya karna hai. Aur jisko nahi pata hota, uss purze ko badal diya jaata hai. Lekin yeh system kabhi nahi badalta.”
As regards flaws, I didn’t find any notable flaws which necessitate mentioning.
Check out the trailer for Paatal Lok here:
On the whole, Paatal Lok will keep you engaged and in suspense throughout, it is far from predictable. This is a series you shouldn’t miss out on. It’s possibly the best content Amazon Prime has delivered after Zoya Akhtar’s Made in Heaven last year.
The series is available for viewing on Amazon Prime Video.