There is redemption, even from hell. There are a number of films and television shows that are based on this premise. But there are few recent works that so effectively bring this point as Prime Video's Paatal Lok. The show is a gritty, gripping clutch of storylines that are either a slow and steady political thriller or an on-the-edge commentary on the fringes of society and their interaction with power structures, depending on how you consume media.
Paatal Lok is the web series debut of Bollywood star Anushka Sharma's production house, Clean Slate Filmz. And boy, what a debut! The show opened to rave reviews all around. It was touted as Amazon's response to Netflix's Sacred Games from 2018. But while Sacred Games excelled at the stylised and urban, Paatal Lok blew the lid off with its portrayal of the suburban and the rural.
Whether Sacred Games and Paatal Lok should be compared or pitted against each other is debatable. But Bollywood ace Anurag Kashyap, one of the directors of Sacred Games, put those things to rest when he praised Paatal Lok to the skies, calling it the best crime thriller to have come out of this country.
My filmmaker’s heart is full of joy. I just saw PAATAAL LOK. The best crime thriller I have seen to come out of this country in the longest time, maybe forever.— Anurag Kashyap (@anuragkashyap72) May 15, 2020
The show is loosely based on Tarun Tejpal's 2010 novel, The Story of My Assassins. Conceptualised for the screen by Sudip Sharma and directed by Avinash Arun and Prosit Roy, the show is steeped in intrigue. The storyline starts with reports of an assassination attempt against a prominent television newscaster and progresses as the investigation into the plot.
The cast of Paatal Lok elevates the story into its gripping portrayal. Jaideep Ahlawat leads as disillusioned Inspector Hathiram Chaudhary and is riveting in a role that was written with him in mind. Gul Panag, Neeraj Kabi, Swastika Mukherjee and Ishwak Singh all glitter in their roles, as does
Abhishek Banerjee, who was also the casting director. Special hat tip to Mairembam Ronaldo Singh, Rajesh Sharma and Anup Jalota who do great justice to their roles.
Paatal Lok in part succeeds because it manages to capture the different layers of chaos, discrimination, oppression and imperfection that truly characterise the human experience. There is no gloss, no perfect character and no grief-less joy or joy-less grief.
The storylines of Kabir, Cheeni and 'Hathoda' Tyagi bring out as wide a range of issues such as systemic discrimination against Muslims, transgender rights and the repercussions of the horrid state of women's safety in rural India.
Paatal Lok is a reminder to you of what lies outside of your window. The world is not all glossy and shiny, nor is it bleak and horrid. All of it is in the world, as it is in Paatal Lok. This one is a must-watch.