Show creators and co-writers Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti take off like a sequel to Sudhir Mishra’s new film Afwaah. Set in Rajasthan, the backdrop and accent are similar. With wicked and well-connected upper-bracket families slapping trumped-up love jihad cases against innocent Muslim lovers, and caste figuring in every equation, it resembles both Afwaah and Tigmanshu Dhulia’s recent show Garmi where tilak-sporting villains were perpetual perpetrators. Sample: A thakur in Dahaad won’t allow an investigating officer into his crumbling mansion, holding on to the vestiges of a caste superiority that’s long past its expiry date.
Fortunately, with Ritesh Shah joining the writing team, and Reema and Ruchika Oberoi taking turns at direction, the punches at Rajasthani society are a backdrop while the focus is on telling a taut thriller which also has at its core pertinent feminist values that question dowry and the desperation to get a girl married.
SI Anjali Bhaati (Sonakshi Sinha) is an amalgamation of all of it. At the receiving end of caste-tinged potshots and parental pressure to get married, Anjali is also the gold standard of kick-ass strength, refusing to become a victim. She is introduced giving a high five to her coach and to how her late father had brought her up. ‘Maare baap ne toh bola…’ she tells a friend, not to bow down and touch anybody’s feet.
Some admire her unapologetic personality. For her skills and for who she is, she gets top ratings from her boss, SHO Devilal Singh (Gulshan Devaiah). For the admiration she draws, disgruntled Kailash Parghi (Sohum Shah) resents her. A junior who’s obsequious before her, lights an agarbatti to purify the room after she leaves.
Outside the police station is serial killer Anand Swarnakar (Vijay Varma), a man with many identities who leaves no tracks, a creepy psychopath with a deep-rooted hatred for women and zero feelings for anybody. A dangerous reptile who crafts a neat fit in society for himself as the upright family man who won’t stand for even the infatuation of a student.
By revealing the perp right away, it’s a pat for the writing team that eight episodes are not a whodunnit with any surprises but a how-they-do-it, the killer ahead of the cops most of the way.
Police stations house personal rivalries but when a cop’s instinct and dogged legwork come together, crime busting is not far away.
Relationships and characterisations of the prominent players dominate the writing, taking care not to overload it with too many.
It’s also wholesome that even if Anjali is in the driver’s seat, she’s not the lone super sleuth. There’s contribution from others too with an efficient IT guy, an appreciative boss, a colleague who may have his grouses but does his bit of policework too, and criminal profiling which is interesting.
New brides have been committing suicide in the ladies’ public toilet at various places. The cops are joining the dots to nab the killer but the parental transfer of desperation to an unmarried girl in the family, are culprits too.
When the cops are not at work, there are sensitive situations at home. Devi Singh has a couple of good scenes explaining the facts of life to his school-going son and wanting his daughter to overcome gender hurdles, perhaps inspired by who he admires at the workplace.
Riding a motorbike and muttering just a couple of abuses under her breath, Anjali has an unabashed personal life totally in sync with her ballsy personality. But nothing is in-your-face overdone and even the adult content does not descend into graphic sleaze.
The personal lives of three pivotal cops and one perpetrator are interesting, at times intriguing. But it’s not perfect. 1) A ‘backward but not bewakoof’ wife in one of the relationships is a bit under-sketched. 2) A badass has an awakening of the conscience and does a baffling U-turn that’s incredulous. 3) For a serial killer so meticulous in detail, how he allowed a loose end to live on undisturbed is unconvincing. Every killer does make a mistake but this one was too obvious. 4) By the 7th episode, the wait to catch the killer gets a bit tiresome.
But Sonakshi Sinha is well cast as she carries off the insolence and the impeccable work of Anjali Bhaati with a strong personality and body language to match. Vulnerability that does not descend into victimhood is just what’s needed to combat societal prejudice. Wear your caste proudly. Sonakshi as Anjali is feisty in her first scene and even feistier in an unexpected last shot.
Vijay Varma who showcased excellence in Alia Bhatt’s Darlings and in the web show She, once again impresses as Anand with his multi-lives.
Gulshan Devaiah, Sohum Shah, Zoa Morani (as Anand’s wife Vandana), even young Divyanshu Veerwani (as Anand’s school-going son Kapish) to whom your heart goes out, and the Swarnakar family, bring heft to their roles.
A thriller with a robust social conscience is binge-material and worth your weekend.
Watch the trailer of Dahaad:
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