Whodunnits are all the rage these days. Just recently, we had Anu Menon’s Neeyat, with a superlative cast but bland execution. A few years ago, Netflix gave us the highly indulgent Nawazuddin-starring Raat Akeli Hai. SonyLIV’s latest offering is Vishal Bhardwaj directorial, Charlie Chopra & The Mystery of Solang Valley that explores not just a murder but the familial dynamics around it. This Hindi-language web series, based on Agatha Christie’s novel The Sittaford Mystery, was released on September 27, 2023.
This six episodic miniseries is about the murder of Brigadier Meherban Singh Rawat after a séance conducted by his family predicts his death. It cannot be a mere coincidence, which makes the audience wonder if the family close to the brigadier are into black magic or if this was an orchestrated plan to get rid of this rich man, who happens to own a ski resort as well. Jimmy, the adorable nephew of Brigadier Meherban, is charged with murdering the celebrated man of the town. To help Jimmy get out of the jail comes Charulata “Charlie” Chopra, his fiancée, who is known to have some detective skills. Someone from the family may have murdered the Brigadier, and the motive is certainly the money. The question remains: Who committed the crime, and will Charlie be instrumental in finding out who the killer is. This forms the crux of the plot.
Charlie Chopra & The Mystery of Solang Valley makes excellent use of dark humor and is layered with murder mystery elements. This Vishal Bhardwaj style of offbeat humor shines like a diamond, and it acts like a character even though the actual screenplay is a mess. The narrative of the show begins on an interesting note. It gets going with the deed and the investigation that follows. For the first three episodes, the tension around who killed the brigadier is intense, which is followed by other untoward happenings that further intensify the need to know who could be the murderer that is desperate to get their hands on the deceased’s money.
The story and the screenplay from the fourth episode begin to spiral downwards, and the show never really recovers. The climax is bizarre and does not make sense. The emotional angle to the climax was not satisfying because the viewers were already exhausted from the narrative going around trying to find out more about the shady pasts of other suspects. This deviation from the actual plot did not help at all. It is appalling to even think this show was co-written by Vishal Bhardwaj, for there are so many unnecessary liberties taken with the story and other subplots. It would seem the first half was written by him. The second half is written by someone else who couldn’t handle the story in the right manner and was unable to deliver a jaw dropping climax.
There is a half-baked subplot regarding Charlie and her mother. Writers Vishal Bhardwaj, Jyotsna Hariharan, and Anjum Rajabali did not know how to work around it, for not much is revealed about their relationship. It is handled haphazardly and does not add any value to the overall narrative. Charlie breaking the fourth wall and speaking to the camera in a Fleabag style is a good way to add a pinch of humor and showcase Wamiqa Gabbi’s ability to carry humorous roles such as this one. Kudos to the director for attempting this style of storytelling because it did feel like a refreshing change. Another subplot involves a sex tape that gets leaked, which did not make sense because it seemed irrelevant to the main plot of the show.
Whodunnits are usually dark, sinister, and claustrophobic, but for the first time, this genre has been presented in a way that does the world-building right and allows us to see the cheeky side of the suspects as well as the individuals conducting the investigation. The twists and turns are engaging enough in the beginning until they overstay their welcome, and we are given an underdeveloped climax. It was rushed through and ruined all the anticipation the writers had created.
The show got the dysfunctional family dynamics right. There is no good or bad person in this show, including the man who was murdered. All of them have shades of gray and are in dire need of money. It was interesting to see Vishal Bhardwaj give an ode to Vijay Anand’s cult classic, Teesri Manzil. The show maker tried hard to mirror the similarity between these two pieces of cinema but fell short by the end of it. Vishal Bhardwaj’s callback to Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is cleverly integrated.
The biggest letdown of the show has to be the makers taking advantage of the subject of mental health. They misinterpreted and misrepresented the entire topic and made a mockery of it. The makers did not do any research on what schizophrenia is or how it affects the patient. They made a dirty cocktail of several mental health issues and showcased it in such a manner that it might end up offending people who have been through such awful phases of their lives. It felt as if the makers wanted to incorporate this subject because it is topical. It is alarming to witness the writers and the makers getting carried away and not bothering to add an ounce of sensitivity in addressing the issue of mental instability.
Vishal Bhardwaj’s direction is in full control in the first half of the show. The rest of the show is just haphazardly directed, thanks to a shaky and messy screenplay that did not know how to end it. The audience expected something better, if not extraordinary from this celebrated director who has given them some excellent work in the past two decades.
The cinematography by Tassaduq Hussain is excellent because it contributes to the world-building done by the screenplay. The snow capped towns that are filled with cozy colonial homes make for a perfect setup to carry out a murder. The production design by Shoumini Ghosh Roy is excellent, with fashionable winter clothes on display. The homes and their surroundings add to the mystery that Charlie and the police are trying to unearth.
Charlie Chopra & The Mystery of Solang Valley is filled with a talented ensemble cast, but all of them are let down by a narrative that could have been tighter on paper and in execution. The talent pool that has been brought together for this show, which includes Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak’s Shah family, deserves better writing to showcase their talent. Wamiqa Gabbi is on a roll with back-to-back success through Jubilee and Modern Love: Chennai. She is hilarious and cheeky as Charlie Chopra, who can carry the show on her shoulders through some comedic and intense scenes. It is not her fault that the writing let her down. Actors like Paoli Dam, Vivaan Shah, Imaaduddin Shah, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Lara Dutt, and Gulshan Grover were underutilized. Good writing could have elevated the viewing experience, and these actors could have brought a lot more to the table if the material given to them was meaty.
There were a lot of expectations from Charlie Chopra & The Mystery of Solang Valley, as the show was helmed by the amazing Vishal Bhardwaj. Sadly, this whodunnit drama absolutely has no substance that will excite you.