Fauda is a tough act to follow. The West Bank politics that centred around a very real Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was globally celebrated for infusing positivity into stories on both sides of the fence and for spotlighting that terrorists too have wives, kids and family lives. Creators Avi Issacharof and Lior Raz (who also played Doron the Israeli agent) were emotionally invested in the show, driven by a desire to tell the stories they’d personally experienced.
When Sudhir Mishra sets out to recreate the same stories by changing the backdrop to terror in the Kashmir valley, it loses its uniqueness perhaps because Indian filmmakers have so often used the theme with repetitive monotony. Just recently, Code Name: Tiranga featured Sharad Kelkar as much hunted terrorist Khalid Omar who loves his wife and kid to bits. The same film also had a wedding sequence where festivities turned bloody, a scene that writers Mishra and Ishaan Trivedi faithfully repeat in their adaptation of Fauda.
There is therefore an unavoidable feeling of déjà vu when Indian agent Kabir Farooqui (Manav Vij), cast in the same beefy-and-buffed-up mould as Lion Raz, is prised out of peaceful retirement to hunt down Panther, a terrorist he thought he’d killed and buried long ago. Kabir gives up jam-making and bliss with wife and kids to close the chapter on Umar Riaz alias Panther (Sumit Kaul), once and for all.
Much of the stories about Riaz, Kabir and their personal lives topped with two kids each, come from the Fauda template. But there is a messiness in the Sudhir Mishra creation. Straight off, the terror harps more on wanting azaadi for Kashmir than on jihadi passion with the valley resembling an Islamic state more than secular India. With everybody on both sides and in between looking similar, and several respectful references to members of a Harkat organisation, you don’t know what’s really going on. It also seems outdated like a pre-Article 370 script.
Lost in the personal tales of Riaz’s love for wife Zainab ((Waluscha De Sousa), Kabir’s marital tensions with his wife Nusrat (Sukhmani Sadana) and a lady doctor called Farah (Ekta Kaul) who has terror connections but whose heart flutters for the Indian agent, it doesn’t quite register why Panther is so dreaded. Or why the Harkat leaders are looked at with awe when the killing of one doesn’t create a flutter anywhere.
What Mishra and co-director Sachin Mamta Krishn set out to convey is confusing as the Indian side has bureaucrats like Malik (Rajat Kapoor) who walk across to have chai and chat in Punjabi with their Pak counterparts. Even if unofficial channels do exist at some level, this overt brotherliness plays no part in serving tension or tanaav, the title of the series.
The shared focus also weakens the impact of the Indian task force beset with its own internal problems.
Although Sudhir and company strive for authenticity with everyone downing countless cups of khewa, graffiti that reads, ‘If oppression becomes the law, resistance becomes a duty’, and dialogues sprinkled with qurbani (sacrifice), azaadi (freedom), Hindustaniyon (spat like a curse), ‘mujahideen ki ma’ (a proud badge even if it roughly translates into religious jihad) and shahid (martyr), the Israel, Arab and Palestinian mix that animated Fauda doesn’t work when it’s relocated in India, Pakistan and Kashmir. The latter looking like an entity by itself. Or when the Hebrew-Arab blend of the original is replaced with Urdu, Kashmiri and Punjabi.
And the strain to be even-handed dilutes the tension of terror poised to unleash sarin nerve gas and mayhem in India.
Manav Vij on whose broad shoulders the story rests, wears a standard expression whether he’s killing someone or making love to another.
It’s Shashank Arora as Junaid, a Panther loyalist, who walks away with the honours in more ways than one.
Watch the trailer of Tanaav: