Revealing shades of Tarun Tejpal’s novel The Story Of My Assassins at its core but going deeper with sheer impact, writer-creator Sudip Sharma’s nine-episode thriller does a cutting-edge job blending neo-noir suspense, gruesome gore, socio-political comment and fascinating mythological allegory.
Paatal Lok takes its time to draw you into the darkness that defines its essence. Over the first two episodes, we are essentially introduced to characters and the locales where they exist, even as slowburn after-impact quietly builds. Then, with a mighty blood-splattered thwack that might make you squirm the next time you see a hammer, episode three (aptly titled ‘History Of Violence’) grandly announces you’ve been drawn into ‘Paatal Lok’ — the hellish underbelly of heartland India where law and the lawless cohabit to form a peculiar societal entirety.
The plot is centred on hotshot Delhi journalist Sanjeev Mehra (Neeraj Kabi) and a plot to assassinate him. Outer Jamna Paar thana’s Inspector Hathiram Chaudhry (Jaideep Ahlawat), a low-profile cop, is handed the investigation. The cards are laid bare right at the start of the story, with the capture of the four hired killers. Each of them has a back story, but the one who arrests your attention right away is Vishal Tyagi, or ‘Hathoda’ Tyagi (Abhishek Banerjee), a dreaded hitman from Chitrakoot with close to 50 kills in his kitty.
The title of the show pertains to the bunch of assassins. They hail from a world within India that defines ‘Paatal lok’, or hell, where the “keede” (vermins) thrive, as Hathiram explains to a rookie cop in an early shot.
It is important to understand that class divide on which everything about this story rests, and showrunner Sudip Sharma along with his co-writers (Sagar Haveli, Hardik Mehta and Gunjit Chopra) effectively set up the nuances of each ‘lok’ with unflinching detail.
Paatal Lok maintains a fine balance between the worlds of its three protagonists, which constantly collide and yet maintain a distance as the sage moves ahead, oscillating between past and present. The approach is clinical as the show delivers its message. It has a Tarantino-esque dash of wit about it and, you will love dogs a bit more after watching it!
Paatal Lok (Amazon Prime series)
Cast: Neeraj Kabi, Jaideep Ahlawat, Abhishek Banerjee, Swastika Mukherjee Gul Panag, Jagjeet Sandhu, Asif Khan, Mairembam Ronaldo Singh, Ishwak Singh
Direction: Avinash Arun and Prosit Roy
Created by: Sudip Sharma
Rating: * * * * (four stars)