Tandav is a palace without intrigue.
Nine episodes that alternate between campus politics and the race for the Prime Minister’s kursi yield a plot that tries hard to thicken but curdles like leftover milk. Blame it on writer Gaurav Solanki whose skill for a narrative with grip (read Article 15) has given him the slip. And, of course, on ‘creator’ Ali Abbas Zafar, the ‘Tiger’ who once again fails to roar after that elaborate bore called Bharat two years ago. We blamed Salman Khan for ‘interference’ the last time around. But this time the buck stops with Zafar.
For a snappy synopsis, Prime Minister Devki Nandan (Tigmanshu Dhulia in splendid form) has weaned son Samar Pratap (an uncomfortable Saif Ali Khan) on the chant that in politics there are no relationships except the rishta with power and the chair. Wily Samar reminds his dad about it when he does him in with no regrets.
But Samar with a House Of Cards kind of ambitious wife Ayesha (Sarah Jane Dias alternating between a fixed stare and a pasted smile) hasn’t reckoned with dad’s girlfriend Anuradha Kishore (Dimple Kapadia smirking with cunningness) who wrests the chair from under his long nose. Solanki caricatures a few more characters: Samar’s henchman Gurpal (Sunil Grover blowing smoke rings and laughing maniacally like a 70s’ villain), Devki Nandan’s confidante and politician Gopal Das (Kumud Mishra, proficient) who wants the PM’s post too, and a bunch of assorted sidekicks and students who have more time for netagiri than notebooks.
Somewhere in between, a farmers’ protest, regionalism (Biharis vs Haryanvis), casteism (Anuup Soni as Dalit leader Kailash dumping higher caste girlfriend Sandhya (Mridul) as predicted by Jagir (Dino Morea), her philandering husband) and cops extorting money from ‘one community’ make weak appearances. One cop doesn’t know the difference between ‘virus’ and ‘viral’ – that’s how ill-informed the man in khaki is.
Zafar’s direction with several flashbacks to “2 days ago” or “16 hrs ago” is ridden with triteness, the kind where Anuradha’s cokehead-son eternally sniffs for you to get the point. Heaps of abuse substitute for emphatic dialogues, speeches by Samar and student leader Shiva (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) on the campus being particularly drab in structure by delivery. The direction is curious in more than one place: apart from a deep frown on his forehead, one isn’t sure why Saif hoarsely whispers to Dino Morea inside a car when it’s only the two of them sitting in it. And when Shiva announces before a committee that he’s forming his own party, it’s presented like a surprise thunderbolt – except that this decision was already conveyed to one and all, including the viewer, much earlier.
Is there anything redeeming? Yes, the women wear gorgeous sarees. And TV actress Kritika Kamra is very pretty in the baffling role of Sana Mir who’s beside Shiva all day but beds professor Jagir.
The problem is also that while there are too many characters and side tracks running around, there’s a singular lack of cleverness or subtleness in the various plots. Something like Prakash Jha’s Rajneeti packed far more political intrigue in 170 minutes than Zafar does in nine episodes that don’t leave you yearning for more.
To the political and religious voices that have called for the boycott of Tandav, I’d say, chill. It doesn’t merit so much attention.