Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein review: Tahir Raj Bhasin puts up a stellar act in this well-written twisted love story

Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein review: Tahir Raj Bhasin puts up a stellar act in this well-written twisted love story

What sets this series apart and prevents it from being just another tale of obsessive love is the often-tongue-in-cheek approach that undercuts the violence and the profanity that otherwise inform the telling

Shantanu Ray ChaudhuriUpdated: Sunday, January 16, 2022, 07:01 AM IST
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‘For she had eyes, and she chose me.’ Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein begins with this quote from Othello as an epigraph. Towards the end of the eight-part series, in episode six, in the middle of a tense sequence involving a family fleeing from killers, a young boy recites the well-known nursery rhyme, ‘Jack and Jill went up the hill’. This yoyoing between Shakespeare and a juvenile rhyme is one of the many offhanded delights that the series offers.

There’s also a hat-tip to Shah Rukh Khan in ways that are as surprising as they are engaging. The title is, of course, a take-off on SRK’s song from Baazigar. The protagonist is named Vikrant, aka Vicky (the ‘killer’ character in the same film). The iconic ‘palat’ moment in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge is played to a rather chilling effect here. There’s a reference to Vikrant doing ‘Shah Rukh-giri’ as also an allusion to another of SRK’s well-known dialogue, ‘Picture abhi baaki hai’. But the real pleasure lies not in these ‘direct’ acts of homage but what the series does with the twin characters that SRK made famous in the 1990s.

For all those who have watched films and web series set in the badlands of Uttar Pradesh, the tropes and characters might well be familiar. To begin with, even I groaned, ‘not again’, but as the series progressed, I found myself getting caught up in the way the writers approach the pulpy material to comment on aspects of masculinity in Hindi cinema through the character of Vikrant Chauhan.

Vikrant (Tahir Raj Bhasin, poor fellow, at the receiving end of possessive/destructive loves in two series in the same week) is an engineering graduate. His future is more or less sealed when he is only seven, and his classmate Purva (Anchal Singh), the daughter of the local political don Akhiraj Awasthi (Saurabh Shukla), makes him an offer of friendship. Fifteen years later, as he is on the cusp of carving out a life with his girlfriend Shikha (Shweta Tripathi Sharma) – a small house, a small garden, a small car, a small dog (Shikha’s addition to the list) – Purva returns from her schooling abroad and reiterates the offer, one that he finds he can refuse only at his peril. Purva arranges with her father to give Vikrant a job managing her Zumba institute, and from thereon, Vikrant’s goose is cooked.

What sets this series apart and prevents it from being just another tale of obsessive love is the often-tongue-in-cheek approach that undercuts the violence and the profanity that otherwise inform the telling. Linked with that is the way the filmmakers tackle the character of Vikrant. Here’s a protagonist who clearly aspires to the two characters that defined SRK – the psychotic killer and the determined romantic hero. And who knows that he does not have it in him to be either.

The way he is emasculated throughout the series is one of its particular pleasures. Just consider the sequence after he has refused Purva’s offer of a salary of Rs 100,000 and has to grovel for a job with her – and she takes him on again, this time at Rs 30,000 only. Or, in the way, he is literally picked up and intimated into marrying Purva. (A delectable spin on a ‘helpless’ woman having to go through this in innumerable Hindi films.) Or, more tellingly, when after a bout of lovemaking, she chides him, ‘You should take a little initiative too.’

Much of this web series’ strength lies in Bhasin’s spot-on take on the character – he is like a deer caught in the headlights, often clueless about what’s coming his way and ill-prepared to handle it. He can only fantasise, time and again, about bumping off the people who have ruined his life – in one sequence, he is listing the ways he can do that and comes up with six options. But that’s it. There’s something farcical in the way he goes about it. He accesses YouTube tutorials on ‘how to assemble and handle a gun’, on ‘how to find a killer on the dark web’ and even ‘how to cry on wife’s death’. And it is these digressions that enliven both the narrative and the character. Here’s a protagonist with little agency, and it is to the credit of the writers and Bhasin that he still makes us root for him.

The filmmakers seldom let the pace flag and assisted by a cast in terrific form – in particular, Brijendra Kala as Vicky’s profanity-mouthing servile father beholden to Awasthi – the series delivers well enough to make you overlook the ‘implausibilities’ which it in fact fetishes and celebrates.

Title: Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein

Cast: Tahir Raj Bhasin, Shweta Tripathi Sharma, Anchal Singh, Saurabh Shukla, Brijendra Kala

Director: Siddharth Sengupta

Rating: 3 stars

Platform: Netflix

(Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri is an award-winning publisher, editor and a film buff)

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