The premise that comes from Satya Vyas’ novel Chaurasi is potent. IPS officer Amrita Singh (Zoya Hussain), in charge of an SIT enquiry that has re-opened the Sikh genocide that happened in Bokaro following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, is stonewalled when all fingers point at her own father, Gursevak Singh (Pavan Raj Malhotra). The father she grew up believing to be so full of kindness that he wouldn’t harm a fly.
The investigation therefore becomes personal too, as unmasking Gursevak’s past as Rishi Raj (Anushman Pushkar), the leader of the riots, becomes as imperative as uncovering the politics behind the riots.
A panel of four writers, Anu Singh Chaudhary, Vibha Singh, Navjot Gulati and Prateek Payodhi, goads director Ranjan Chandel to swing from current-day politics in Ranchi to what happened 30 years ago in Bokaro. And what happened in Bokaro was an intense romance between young Hindu lad Rishi Raj and Sikhni Manu Chhabra (Wamiqa Gabbi).
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Such a substantial pot of romance and intrigue unfortunately plummets into dullness because of a certain lack of thrill in the plotting. As Amrita and next-in-command Vikas Mandal (Sahidur Rahman) meet a variety of perpetrators and victims of the Bokaro riots, 1984 is revisited several times over eight episodes. So the same story of Rishi Raj leading the dastardly killings is retold by everybody in Rashomon fashion but without the sophistication of Kurosawa.
The Manu-Rishi love story takes several episodes to peak, not necessarily in the freshest cinematic manner, with vacuous petulance from Wamiqa passing off for innocent cuteness. And Rishi is so Amitabh Bachchan of the 70s-80s that it’s unwittingly hilarious.
What works: Zoya Hussain as Amrita, Pavan Malhotra as Gursevak, the interesting introduction of different actors to play the same character, younger in 1984 and ageing today, the gravitas of the 1984 Sikh riots, the sombre mood that’s suitably maintained all through the episodes, and surprisingly good music from Amit Trivedi.
What doesn’t work: The predictable zig-zag between time periods and Bokaro-Ranchi, the political rivalries, seniors in the police department swayed by their political masters, and earnest but disgusted juniors like Amrita in 2016 or Jaiswal in 1984, are all familiar situations. They neither spring a surprise nor waft in any freshness. Which adds to the feeling of dullness.
The performance of Pavan Malhotra is symptomatic of where such an important story doesn’t completely succeed in engaging the viewer. The actor moves seamlessly from cheerful, caring father in Ranchi to the silent and anguished man from Bokaro, pairing a faint hint of hunched shoulders with wide eyes and closed lips. It’s not the fault of the actor who delivers competently but that of the writing and direction that there is so much repetitive sameness in Pavan’s scenes and expressions.
Grahan is therefore a great story, a terrific opportunity that somewhere gets lost on the highway between Bokaro and Ranchi.