Director: Sameer Saxena, Amit Golani
Cast: Mona Singh, Ashutosh Gowariker, Amey Wagh, Sukant Goel, Arushi Sharma, Radhika Mehrotra, Vikas Kumar
Where: Streaming now on Netflix
Rating: 4 stars
When I was among the fortunate few to watch the first episode of Netflix’s latest show Kaala Paani, I was fully aware of the magic that was waiting to unfold. After all, the show is a welcome departure from the relatable, urban youth shows popularised by showrunners Sameer Saxena and Amit Golani, who in the past have helmed Kota Factory, Gullak, Permanent Roommates and Jaadugar to name a few.
But, with Kaala Paani, the makers venture into uncharted territory, bringing a gripping survival drama to the forefront that immediately draws you into their fictional world where a life-threatening disease endangers the lives of unsuspecting civilians and concerned stakeholders must come together to save and secure one’s self and all.
Effectively written by Saxena, Golani and Biswapati Sarkar, Kaala Paani stands as a fitting metaphor to a similar predicament that we all were in for a brief period.
In futuristic 2027, the inhabitants of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are prepping for the annual Swaraj Mahotsav, towards year-end. This festival is likely to draw thousands of tourists from all over the globe, proving to be beneficial for all interests concerned. While the state has obtained all permissions from each department, Dr. Soudamini Singh (Mona Singh) has reserved her consent. She opines that the entire populace is at the risk of an indecipherable disease if the festival is to be allowed. Admiral Jibran Quadri (Ashutosh Gowariker) and Inspector Ketan Kamat (Amey Wagh) somehow convince her that poverty in the islands is a bigger threat than an unheard disease and eventually get her to agree.
In a bid to prove them wrong, Dr. Singh enlists help from new medical trainee Ritu Gagra (Radhika Mehrotra) to trace the epicentre of the disease. As the show progresses, we witness how this epidemic strands lives, lockdowns and restrictions are imposed, supplies run out and everyone is running against time, while some who are financially fortunate look at means of escaping from the islands.
Sounds familiar, right? That’s exactly the messaging the creators aim at. In the context of a fictional disease, a mirror is held against our own dealings when we were stuck in the middle of a pandemic. Where frontline workers worked day and night to find crucial breakthroughs. In addition to that, we are also made to understand the significance of our countless forgotten tribes who have inhabited these islands and how their lives are consistently at risk, owing to commercially, vested interests.
Mind you, it’s a lot to pack in. But, one look at the makers’ body of work is enough to convince you why Kaala Paani is a must-watch. That it is enabled by moving performances from its equally talented cast is a huge plus. From its taut editing, well-written dialogues and the eery set-design, every technical aspect of the show stands out.
Speaking of the performances, fans of Mona Singh can tone down their expectations as the actor has comparatively, lesser screen-time. For that aside, Ashutosh Gowariker is very convincing as Admiral Jibran. He speaks volumes with his calm demeanour. My favourite characters from the lot are Inspector Ketan Kamat and Chiranjeevi, played by a solid Sukant Goel. Both Amey and Sukant display the unpredictability of their characters with such finesse. Vikas Kumar as an unsuspecting tourist, who loses his wife to the disease and is waiting to be reunited with his missing children, makes for a heart-breaking watch. Arushi Sharma as Jyotsna treads a tricky path with her character, but she delivers. Radhika makes you vouch for Ritu’s moment to shine.
All said, do yourselves a favour and just add Kaala Paani to your watch list, this weekend. Definitely another addition to the stellar titles from Netflix’s vault in 2023.