Is the Indian content space going through some sort of a representation-crisis? What is the matter with putting transgender characters on screen merely as exercises of showing how original the creators are? How can gender identity be contextualized into a shocking plot point? Taali, Haddi and now Bejoy Nambiar’s Kaala- the OTT content space in India is somehow following a ridiculously staged attempt of telling original stories, but what actually shows is an excruciatingly tone-deaf, and misguided representation of queer individuals and their realities.
Kaala takes that gambit one step higher- and positions gendered identity as a provocative narrative twist. It seems most of these writers are in urgent need of a Queer Studies course. (Also read: Karan Johar reviews Jawan, says Shah Rukh Khan represents ‘mega stardom in a way that only he can’)
Intelligence seems to have left the building in the new Disney+ Hotstar series Kaala, that wants to pursue deliberate twists, break apart an interesting parallel track for establishing some sort of shock value, and stubbornly jump timelines the next minute. Its good to let the audience follow and join the dots, but ridiculous to expect them to survive the 6 hour-long incessant cross-cuts masquerading as some thrilling reveal. It’s not. Let’s not pretend its anything more than a misfire.
Kaala chronicles IB officer Ritwik Mukherjee (Avinash Tiwary) who has been given the task to investigate a huge case of ‘reverse hawala’ that is being run by Naman Arya (Taher Shabbir) in West Bengal. The traces link back to some sort of connection to Ritwik’s past as well. Is anyone surprised? No. Ritwik’s informant is Subhendu Mukherjee (Rohan Vinod Mehra), who stays with his physically challenged wife and daughter Asoka, in Darjeeling. Subhendu’s story is traced in a parallel track that begins in the late 1980s. Ritwik also has a team that constitutes of Sitara (Nivetha Pethuraj), who is also his girlfriend-of-sorts. Is anyone supposed to be surprised again? No. Cut to Subhendu’s defamation track in the 80s. Pradeep Sharma, Shashwat Roy, and Balwant Bir Rana were the three members of the border defense forces, whose quest to put an end to the illegal activities which are occurring at the Indo-Bangladesh border turns sour.
Too many details? Trust writers Francis Thomas, Pryas Gupta, Mithilesh Hegde, Shubhra Swarup and Nambiar to tell you to sit down and try to make sense of it all. The manic sense of incoherent cross-cuts insists that no one shall go as far. The story has more to tell. This is a story with many truths. This is post-truth. The bullets? They can be fired in-between surely. Violence? That is totally necessary here, so blood has to spill. Bejoy, as always, is more concerned with investing all his energy into stuffing his show with hollow style, rather than actually focusing on giving you a digestible, coherent something.
Style over substance
For example, a sudden burst of Bangla hip-hop that erupts in a chase sequence- that alters the tone and energy completely. It is utterly needless and does not do any service to the plot. Or take the hovering camerawork over two women making out in private. Why are these irreverent choices taken time and again? It’s a shallow attempt at punctuating a dizzying sense of style to the chaos which unfolds in Kaala. The result is, for the lack of a better term, nauseating.
Kaala makes little sense and lot of empty, bumbling noise. None of the performances land, most characters exist as props for narrative control and not as fleshed out, living entities existing in a corrupt system. Jitin Gulati’s performance, in particular, lands crashing down the most. The entire point of how the chase overshadows the loss and pain in these characters is never taken forward. You wait and expect in vain- for the swing to land. But it doesn’t. The futility, unfortunately, emerges out of the many tendencies that takes place in Kaala in breakneck speed and style. What astounds and exasperates, at last, is how pointless and misguided it all turns out to be.