Amazon Prime Video’s latest offering Pataal Lok is marked by constant tonal changes. The nine-episode series starts off as a police procedural cum investigative thriller but then it takes noirish shades before transforming into a family drama only to take noirish shades once again. Created by Sudip Sharma, the writer of films like NH10, Udta Punjab and Sonchiriya, Pataal Lok stars Jaideep Ahlawat, Neeraj Kabi, Ishwak Singh, Niharika Lyra Dutt, Abhishek Banerjee, Jagjeet Sandhu, Swastika Mukherjee, Asif Khan, Anindita Bose and Gul Panag in key roles. The series is co-directed by Avinash Arun and Prosit Roy and is produced under the banner of Anushka Sharma’s Clean Slate Films.
While the series is essentially a blend of different genres, it is during its noir parts that the series is at its most exhilarating. As a matter of fact, Paatal Lok is likely to remind film noir fans of Navdeep Singh’s 2007 neo-noir film Manorama Six Feet Under which was loosely based on Roman Polanski’s 1974 Hollywood classic Chinatown. A lot of the people who have watched both Manorama Six Feet Under and Chinatown feel that the former is good enough to stand on its own as an independent film. That’s how good a film Manorama is.
Now, at first when one starts to notice the tonal similarities between Pataal Lok and Manorama one thinks of it as a mere coincidence. The reality, however, is that Navdeep Singh has served as the script consultant on Paatal Lok. While there is no denying that the series belongs to Sharma, Singh’s contribution just cannot be overlooked. The unrelenting mood that stylistically oozes out of each and every frame during the parts of the series set in Chitrakoot certainly bears Singh’s signature. Not to mention the lingering presence of signature noirish elements such as prying bystanders, cheating husbands, femme fatales, duplicitous cops, and morally ambiguous heroes in Pataal Lok’s treacherous world.
Paatal Lok’s labyrinthine storyline is replete with all kinds of subplots. But the screenplay employs a rather unique nonlinear storytelling approach that seamlessly ties up various secondary subplots to the central narrative. Each new episode begins with a flashback of sorts involving totally new characters which at first doesn’t make much sense but gradually things begin to fall in place. The series is loaded with strong socio-political commentary that makes highly relevant observations about the times we live in. But it does so subtly without ever being preachy.
Paatal Lok has two very solid performances around which everything else revolves. On one hand we have a washed-out cop named Hathiram Chaudhary (essayed by Ahlawat), on the other we have Sanjeev Mehra (Kabi), a firebrand news anchor constantly at loggerheads with those in positions of power. Both the actors are brilliant in their respective roles and are ably supported by the rest of the cast. While Kabi’s is a truly international performance and he never really misses a note, Ahlawat’s performance during which he goes through an entire gamut of emotions can best be described as raw and gritty. Barring a few hiccups, Paatal Lok is easily the best show to have come out of the Indian web space in a long time.