The recent trend in the Hindi film industry seems to be bringing out stories from gritty and arid Rajasthan. It looks like stories from Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Mumbai, and Bihar regions that focused on gangsters and the mafia are on their way out. We saw the colorful and vivacious Bandish Bandits from a few years ago. We had Thar last year; this year we already have Saas, Bahu aur Flamingo. Two out of the three films were based in the desert-covered state and were about the sort of nefarious activities that take place there, and with the state bordering the infamous neighboring country, there’s a wide selection to choose from that not many films have covered in the past. The dry aspect of the weather adds a layer to the stories, but overusing geography to talk about what exactly is happening in the state is what will lead to nothing narrative wise. Dahaad, which means roar, is a Prime Video original show, created by Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti, about a small town in Rajasthan that is seeing a series of murders happen around the town and outside the town as well. A serial killer is on the loose, and the police are now on the prowl to catch this person.
The movie begins with the father and son being brought in for questioning because his other son, Altaf, has eloped with a Hindu girl, Rajni, and her father has filed an absconding case against Altaf. Even though it is obvious that the girl and the boy ran off on their free wills, it is her parents who created a hue and cry about the matter, making sure a local political outfit would get involved in it and pressurize the Mandawa police to find Altaf and arrest the boy. At the same time, a local man named Murli comes by to let the police know about the status of the missing person case he had filed. His sister has been missing for 50 days, and he has not received any calls from her side. The man jumping the Hindu-Muslim angle would help him find his sister, and the police know that his sister Krishna was abducted by a Muslim man. The local political outfit also joins the cause in the hunt to find Krishna. We have SI Anjali Bhaati, SHO Devi Lal Singh, and SI Kailash Parghi who have been assigned these two cases to make sure the girls are fine and to investigate if there is a reason to make any arrests. As the missing woman Krishna’s case gains traction, the Mandawa police officials come across a pattern of women dying by consuming cyanide, all of these women having run away from their homes to marry a certain gentleman who had different identities depending on who he was interacting with. Initially, it was assumed women committed suicide out of shame for believing this man, but soon it was established that the women were being killed. With the pattern repeating and realizing the number of girls who went missing and turned up dead has increased manifold, it is easy to conclude that there is a serial killer in and around town, and this man is in no mood to stop.
Anand Swarnakar, as the name suggests, comes from a family of jewelers, but the man decides to take the road less traveled and becomes a Hindi college professor who has a way with women. He is a charmer, and that is why he utilizes it in his favor to lure women. Is Anand the man the police are looking for?
The serial killer angle added a layer to the entire narrative of the show, but what slowed down the narrative was the overstretched screenplay and the writers’ unwillingness to increase the pacing of the show. It is established at the beginning of the show who is the serial killer is, but the entire process of Mandawa police trying to reach the man and waiting to nab the person alive is just a strenuous one. Any film or television show about a serial killer on the loose has to have at least decent pacing as the investigative officers take time to understand the pattern and the motivation of the killer. But here, the writers wanted to bring in so many subplots and social commentary that the entire show came across like a mixed bag of everything.
There are eight writers on this show, and the final product felt like too many cooks spoiled the broth. Why was the Hindu-Muslim couple angle added? It served no purpose. The fringe political party that created a nuisance in the beginning suddenly disappeared from the show. Why was the sequence of the Hindu girl Rajni filing for protection from her father added to the show? It just did not make sense. It is interesting to see how caste too plays a major role, even in the place of work, but I wish there was more to it than was portrayed on the screen. Usually, a Zoya Akhtar and Reem Kagti presentation has so much going on, even with minimal dialogue and being to the point. Here, the story and the screenplay were all over the place, and “Dahaad” got plain exhausting after a point. There were loopholes in the screenplay that were easy to spot, and it was worrying to see how this was overlooked. There are scenes involving Vijay Varma as Anand, and one wonders how he is carrying out activities without anyone recognizing him. He has been living in that town for a while, so it should have been easy for someone to grasp the fact that the man was up to something. Or were writers trying to portray the point that no matter how much one claims to know their town and the people living in it, it would be shocking to comprehend what people closer to them are capable of? But the above-mentioned intent did not translate well on screen. The screenplay could have been cut short, and the show could have been six episodes, but the writers were too busy coming up with many subplots and beating around the bush, describing his modus operandi repeatedly.
The show ends in a very Pink fashion, which incidentally also had Vijay Varma in it, where the serial killer reveals that he killed those women because they had it coming for hanging out and flirting with strange men. If that was the case, why did he not kill a certain character in the show who had cheated on him? This is the kind of plot hole I am talking about that was ignored or forgotten about. Being a Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti show, we know it will inherently be about the kind of toxic environment women are raised in. Women and young girls are not allowed to find their wings. Women are raised to believe marriage and having a husband are the only things that will keep them happy and fulfilled. This subplot was rightly portrayed, but again, the blending of this subplot into the actual plot did not bring out the right kind of end result and emotion that was required. There were so many things being said at once that the actual plot and the subplot became perplexing. The character arcs of basically everyone in the show were very black and white. None of them carried the complexity that was required to take the narrative forward.
The antagonist was not dreadful enough for the audience to feel frightened of the man and his antics. The most disappointing was SHO Devi Lal Sigh, portrayed by Gulshan Devaiah. The writers had Gulshan play the role, but the writing of his character was too one-note, because of which Gulshan himself was unable to bring out the intricacy required to play an honest-to-God cop. The only arc that intrigued me was that of SI Kailash Parghi, portrayed by Sohum Shah. His arc genuinely had an impact, but only until a certain point. By the end of the show, SI Kailash had nothing going for himself.
The performances of the leads, especially Sonakshi Sinha and Vijay Verma, bring out a certain level of depth in the characters they have portrayed. Sonakshi, as Anjali Bhaati, is on a mission to find the killer, and she won’t budge until the man is caught. My only issue was with the fact that after working for days on the case, there is no sense of tiredness on her face, nor can we find so much as a crease on any of her clothes. Not just her; I would like to point that out about other police officers as well. Vijay Varma too portrayed plenty of aspects of a horrible man living a double life, but again, his character arc simply derailed after the sixth episode, and there was no coming back for him. Nobody can question his acting chops, but his characterization was also very one-sided.
Dahaad could be my least favorite Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti show because when we say these two names, we expect quality content, and most of their films and TV shows have a repeat value. Sadly, it would be difficult for many to go back and watch this show all over again because of its underwhelming and overstretched narrative. Dahaad could have been so much better.