Every streaming platform these days, especially the Indian ones, has one genre that has been milked to death: the crime thriller or murder investigation. It has been presented in a million different ways. A lot of them are similar to each other, and only a few manage to stand out. In the span of a few months, Disney+ Hotstar has released three regional shows in the same genre, and each of them has left a mark of their own. Be it Shaitan, a Telugu language crime thriller about an ex-Naxal, or Kerala Crime Files, a Malayalam language murder investigation, the platform is acing so far at bringing some original content in this gritty genre. Adding to this list is Pavan Sadineni directed Dayaa, a Telugu-language web series that was released on the platform on August 4th, 2023.
Dayaa is the story of the eponymous protagonist, a partially deaf man who is a driver for a freezer van company and handles the transportation of fish around the town. Dayaa is the personification of a timid man who refuses to get into altercations until bad luck befalls him. He notices the dead body of a woman inside his truck, and his life from then on changes. All he can think of is making sure he gets rid of the dead body at the earliest, and he asks his fisherman friend Prabha to assist him. Prabha, being the more audacious of the two, comes up with a bizarre plan that goes haywire quickly. Dayaa is joined by a few people from different backgrounds who try to come up with a solution on how to get rid of the body, which happens to be of renowned journalist Kavitha. All of them are disturbed by the turn of events and are eager to find out more about the woman’s family and unearth who killed her.
Dayaa is an eight-episode web series, and every show or movie in the crime thriller genre needs to have a sucker punch of a start that will set the tone till the end. Dayaa by Pavan Sadineni does a good job of establishing the plot of the show, the underdog protagonist and a one-note villain who is given no redemption arc. Soon, the narrative slips into the territory of becoming a commercial web series with all the elements that any other popular Telugu movie would have. The director just could not stay away from emphasising the heroism of the lead characters by giving them a savoir-faire angle. This was exactly the issue with “Shaitan” as well. Being a crime thriller/murder investigation story, the makers and the writers could have added aspects of realism to make the entire show gripping and dark till the end. The storytelling would have been elevated if the suspension of disbelief had been dialed down.
Another aspect that hindered the show even after a good setup was the over-exaggeration of how politicians behave and the way television news channels work. Instead of giving these subplots certain complexities, the media and the political antagonists have been projected as out-and-out negative characters with no saving grace. Writers Vasant Kumar Jurru and Pavan Sadaneni create a villain who is straight out of a masala Telugu film. A politician, who lusts for women, and is involved in many corrupt practices. The makers could have taken the risk of giving these negative characters some layers to keep them from becoming caricatures of the sort usually played by good-looking actors. This trope of a handsome, rich man always having wrong intentions towards everyone has been used for many years, and it is time Telugu filmmakers break away from these stereotypes.
The direction after a few episodes is lazily executed, for there is no way to understand after a juncture why certain characters are behaving in a peculiar way and why they are even introduced. Pavan Sadineni’s direction is worth mentioning only in bits and pieces because there are scenes that didn’t need to be included in the show. The runtime of each episode was hardly over thirty minutes, but the screenplay has been stretched so much, especially in the climactic episodes, that it affects the viewing experience by a large margin. The writers hyped up characters such as the investigation officer, Dayaa’s wife, and Shabana but did not give them a definite closure, even though these people had enough potential to become strong roles. At many junctures, certain scenarios and subplots came across as ridiculous. The intimate scenes have been added just to titillate the audience, and they bring out nothing of importance to the overall narrative. Some subplots have genuine loopholes, and since the makers overlooked them, it seems like a big blunder on their end because an investigation thriller has to be tightly knit.
The writers in this show talk about crimes against women, but at no point is a woman’s plight showcased realistically. The talk about how women were targeted by abuse to create fear comes across as the most insensitive portrayal of female characters in a show. This is a result of having no female writers on board. The empowered women on the show want to take revenge or want to showcase only rage. This is the inherent flaw. The savior complex in men is the highlight of Dayaa, which makes the show slightly regressive.
Vivek Kalepu’s camerawork and framing are excellent, which allows the viewers to get an understanding of the place the show is set in. There is a certain eeriness that is developed through the cinematography, which gives the show a solemnity right before the chaos is unleashed. Credit where credit is due because Viplav Nyshadam’s editing and transitions can be applauded. These technical aspects are some of the highlights of Dayaa, and it would seem the makers did not disappoint at all.
Dayaa, named after the lead protagonist, is a one-man show, and it is only JD Chakravarthy’s performance of a brooding, cowering man who suddenly transforms into a larger-than-life character that makes the show engaging till the end. The man has displayed varied emotions throughout the eight episodes, and it is his caliber as a veteran actor that shines like a diamond. Unfortunately, his character was a letdown because the writers did not get into the history of this man to help the viewers understand what led him to his current persona. Josh Ravi as Prabha is also excellent. He can embody a certain shade of gray as his character is conflicted about how to handle the crisis. The rest of the cast in the show is just mediocre, especially the female characters, who do not have much to do. Ramya Nambeesan, as a steadfast journalist, was not allowed to explore her character, and the same could be said about Vishnupriya Bhimeneni as Shabana.
The climax of the show was too generic and predictable, and it did not close many loose ends, which makes the viewers wonder if the makers are eyeing for a season two. Dayaa could have been a lot better if the makers had not stuck to typical twists and turns. The predictable nature of Dayaa is what makes the show an average watch.