The new series on Amazon Prime is commendable for its tight plot and sharp script, but raises audiences' cynicism by a few degrees.
Pataal Lok (the Under World), a new series released last month on Amazon Prime, seems to have ruffled many feathers. There is a spate of criminal complaints against the producers of this series, alleging racism, sexism and communal bias in the storyline and depiction.
On the other side, there have been abundant accolades for the intensity of the plot and brave presentation. Intrigued by the diverse opinions, I decided to watch the series and decide for myself. Here is my take on it.
For its cinematic value - tight plot, sharp script, engaging dialogues, and perfect acting - Pataal Lok is a treat to watch. However, if someone is not a usual audience (watch, enjoy and forget) and like to critically analyse a piece of art for its social impact, it raises some serious questions and answers almost none. For example, consider the following five points:
(a) The protagonist, who is a frustrated police officer, discovers that the cartel of media, police, CBI and politicians have staged a fake murder attempt and terror plot for vested interest (remember 1997 Hollywood flick Wag the Dog). When he confronts his seniors, he is advised to close his eyes or face the consequences of disobedience. He is told that there are no lacunae in the system. It is well oiled and all the wrongdoing are well planned and executed.
The series suddenly refreshes the memories of many infamous cases like Jessica Lal murder case, Aarushi murder case, Batla House encounter case, BMW accident case, Salman Khan accident case, etc., and how the investigating agencies and police did multiple flip-flops in the investigation and prosecution; and how the media played the tune.
The plot may strengthened the belief of the unscrupulous that everything is manageable in the country; while giving a glimmer of hope to the righteous that with perseverance the culprits may be brought to justice even if it takes an extraordinary amount of time and effort.
The question it leaves for the audience is "whether to believe in the system which is so well organised with all its wheels well oiled, or stop having whatever trust they have left in the system?" In my view, it raises the level of audiences' cynicism by a few degrees.
The fact that while many people and social organisations have raised objections to the storyline, the administration, media, police and investigating agencies have not taken any objection to their derogatory depiction; might further hurt the belief of the people in the system.
(b) The series depicts two instances of gang rape. In one case, young girls are raped by their first cousins, as the girls' father could not repay the debt in time. In the second case, a middle-aged lower caste woman is brutally gang-raped by upper caste strongmen, to avenge the crime of her son. Her son, unable to bear the persistence tormenting and physical abuse by the upper caste youth, had killed one of the upper caste youth and ran away.
Incest, sexual exploitation of borrower by money lenders and landlords, and rape as a means of revenge have been depicted in many movies in the past 70 years. It is common knowledge that these phenomena are not limited to movies and are regular practices in our country. In that sense, the series does show us a clean mirror.
However, nowhere in the series, which has media as one of the key constituents of the plot, any whisper is heard raising concern over these issues. These instances are used as convenient subplots to balance the anger against the brutal killers. The audience is not provoked or motivated to spare any thought for the deep-rooted malaise widely prevalent in our society. Unfortunately, no human rights or women’s rights organisation has raised objection to this.
The series thus raises the question, "do we actually care for the rising instances of crime against women, or our conscience just stirs a little bit whenever a case of rape gets higher TRP in the media?"
(c) In a sub-plot, again conveniently incorporated to balance the angst against the group of criminals, an abandoned child is sodomised by a trafficker. After years of exploitation, the child grows to be a transgender. He cross-dresses as a woman and provides miscellaneous services to various criminals.
Police mistaking this man as female is one of the few mistakes in the plot, but no "child rights" activist expressing concern over this issue can certainly not be a mistake. The audience again is left with almost no disgust for child trafficking and sexual exploitation.
The question it raises is "with so much of insensitivity of administration, police, media, and common people, how would we solve this very serious problem prevalent in our society? Has the struggle ended with decriminalisation of Section 377 of IPC?
(d) The series has a group of four hardened criminals, who are engaged by a politician to stage a fake murder of a star news anchor. Police, administrators, media barrens, hawala operators and investigating agencies are accomplices to the plan.
Four sub-plots are narrated to show how four innocent people transformed into hardened criminals. The idea behind sub-plots is to invoke some sympathy for these criminals to balance the feelings of the audience.
The question that the series leaves for the audience is "why no effort is shown for the reformation of these criminals who were innocent youth before they took to the path of crime?"
On the contrary, these criminals are shown as tools in the hands of politicians and police for carrying out their malevolent objectives. A critical inference is that it is an attempt to generate sympathy for the criminals and mistrust and disgust for the system per se, without offering any solution or leaving any scope for debate.
(e) The protagonist police inspector somehow manages to get his son migrated to a prestigious private school in Delhi from the government school where he was studying before. He is not able to tolerate cultural shock. He is also not accepted by the upper-middle class and rich students of the private school. He is subjected to constant ridicule and bantering. He develops rebellious tendencies -- hates the father, joins the company of petty criminals, etc. and almost kills one of his classmates.
The behavioral development of this teenager at this point in the story bears some similarity to the gang of four criminals. Thankfully, timely intervention by the father saves the boy from slipping into the underworld.
The question which is still bothering me is that "why people are not rising to demand the "right to uniform education" for their child?" People come on streets for all miscellaneous issues, but they do not demand good education which is pre-requisite for poverty alleviation and inclusion.
The system of caste- and religion-based reservation can never succeed until the wide gap between the public and private education is bridged. I believe this disparity in the education system has been intentionally introduced to defeat the purposes of the reservation. It suits the system (politicians and elite) very well. The disparity was there in the pre-Mandal era, but it seems to have increased tremendously post-1989.
Unfortunately, it seems not to have bothered many.Vijay Kumar Gaba explores the treasure you know as India, and shares his experiences and observations about social, economic and cultural events and conditions. He contributes his pennies to the society as Director, Equal India Foundation. The views are personal.