Lately, there have been many television shows that are set in the heartland of Rajasthan. After thoroughly exploring stories from the Hindi heartland, a lot of filmmakers have shifted their gaze towards Rajasthan that focus on the kind of illegal activities that are being carried out. Since the state shares a border with a powerful pesky neighboring country, in and out of contraband is bound to happen. Manorama Six Feet Under, Saas Bahu Aur Flamingo, Aarya, Dahaad, Gulaal, and Thar are crime dramas that explore the dark underbelly of the state. Meanwhile, Bandish Bandits and Mismatched showcase the vibrant and colorful side of Rajasthan, which the people are used to seeing. Shehar Lakhot is yet another addition to the neo-noir crime drama genre that explores the marble mafia in the state of Rajasthan and the politics that looms around it. Created by Navdeep Singh and Devika Bhagat, the show is a Prime Video Original, which premiered on November 29, 2023.
Set in the town of Lakhot, which is famous for marble mining and the mafia that controls it, Devendra Singh Tomar, aka Dev, has come back to his hometown and is working as a henchman for a business conglomerate based in Gurugram. His job is not just to bring an end to the protest carried out by locals against the rampant mining but also to make sure the protest leader, Dr. Vikas, agrees to the terms sent by Dev’s bosses. Dev is also conflicted about facing his family, which includes his father, brother, and sister-in-law, as he is meeting them after a decade.
Dev has something of a criminal history which landed him in prison, after which he never set foot in his town but built a life around crime for himself. Dev also must confront his ex-girlfriend Sandhya, who is now the paramour of the local royal Kairav. Among all of these familial dramas, the murder of a foreigner and the illegal killing of a deer have gripped the entire town. There is plenty to talk about with the events unfolding in town, and there are police officers who are on the payroll of the rich mafia. All of them somehow get embroiled in each of these issues, and there is no end to the mess that was created with Dev’s arrival. There is a death in Dev’s family, followed by a wrongful arrest, which further complicates the matter. A Pandora’s box is opened, and the local police are forced to get involved in it. Will there be an end to this roller coaster ride the viewers have agreed to watch? Was Dev right to get involved with his ex-girlfriend without realizing a lot has changed in the last ten years? What is Kairav’s game plan?
The writing by Navdeep Singh and Devika Bhagat shines through the show, even though there are plenty of subplots that are balanced at the same time. One subplot involves Kairav’s legitimacy over the palace he inherited and the power he is trying to create about himself despite being only a half-royal. There is a subplot involving the job assigned to Dev and the kind of people he ends up meeting in that process. Another storyline that sheds light on the tribes of the town that are safeguarding their land from overmining.
Dev’s elder brother Jay who pretends to be holier than thou is also embroiled in a scam that might cost him his life. All these, along with many other subplots intersect to form the entire premise of the show, which is eight episodes long. The writing is slow-paced, and it takes time for the screenplay to get under your skin. But once it does, one could continue watching the show to witness how all the loose ends would be tied.
The narrative does get convoluted and overwhelming, and after a point, keeping track of various character arcs becomes difficult. There is violence, dysfunctional family dynamics, crime, and humor. The right mix of these aspects gives the audience Shehar Lakhot. The premise feels all over the place because of one character’s relationship with the other, but the viewers need to showcase patience. The subplots tend to surprise the viewers as the narrative progresses. There are plenty of issues raised by the writers, and they cover them extensively. The politics of the protest that the tribes get into and how an educated protest leader is lured into end the agitation through money or honey trapping. The prostitution and drug supply that happen behind the garb of tourism and development have the local police and politicians involved, who are receiving a share of the profit.
Amidst the raging hormones of men are two strong women who are trying hard to survive, stand their ground, and make sure no one takes advantage of them. Sandhya’s life after Dev left changed, and she had to do something to make sure she lived life on her terms with a new partner. SI Pallavi Raj is the only female inspector in the station, and she must battle the sexism that comes with working with men of her age or older than her. The female characters are written with absolute finesse, and there are multiple layers given as to why they behave a certain way as the end of the show approaches. Both the ladies have been given definitive arcs that go with the flow of the narrative.
Plenty of subplots would seem unnecessary, but they were included to project certain characters as powerful, and they played a big role in taking the narrative forward. Death is a staple in this show, and the makers do not use violence to titillate the audience. Violence is a part of the fabric of society, and the makers have portrayed it as such.
Navadeep Singh has expanded on the Manorama Six Feet Under kind of world-building, and he is successful in grasping attention in no time. Although eight episodes with a run time of one hour each was a bit much, a lot could have been cut to make the narrative tight. Thankfully, the screenplay does not lose its grip, and it remains steady till the end. A good screenplay and editing made sure the final product was not disorganized.
The humor in this show is highly underrated. The dark comedy, coupled with sarcasm and satire, makes the show highly realistic. There is plenty of hilarity that unfolds during arguments and fight sequences. Navdeep Singh and Devika Bhagat have beautifully merged humor with the gritty nature of the show. The makers have managed to make the show as real as possible, so much so that it feels like a conversation happening in the real world in front of the viewers as the drama unfolds. The cinematography by Vishal Vittal is magnificent. Most of the show does not visually describe the vast barren lands of Rajasthan, choosing to restrict itself to smaller shots. But a lot is said through the camera, and Vishal, along with Navadeep and Devika, presents an arresting scenario. Any story coming from Rajasthan that involves crime and violence will disturb the viewers, and the makers have tapped into this aspect through this show. The editing by Nayan Bhadra is consistent but tends to lag in many parts.
The casting is the biggest highlight of the show. Ratna Neelam Pandey, Ashok Vyas, and Hemang Vyas have done an excellent job of gathering plenty of talented actors under one roof who deliver stellar performances. Chandan Roy Sanyal is a surprise package in this show as a half-royal Kairav who is trying to find a foothold in the world of the elites. He seems to be speaking English most of the time, even though Dev and his brother Jay knew him as a loser from school days. Chandan Roy sinks his teeth into Kairav, and he delivers an arresting performance. A monologue in the last episode cements his position as one of the actors to look forward to. Priyanshu Painyuli and Kashyap Harsha Shangari are excellent as brothers Dev and Jay Tomar and seem to have great chemistry as siblings who are always on opposite ends of an argument.
Bhi and Bho are another pair of psychotic siblings played by Manjiri Pupala and Sanjay Shiv Narayan. Their characters are written with a lot of passion, and the actors emulate that on screen. Manu Rishi Chadha as Inspector Rajbir Rangot is an excellent addition to the show. He has lived the role given to him in Shehar Lakhot. He is a corrupt police official who hovers between two powerful people smoothly without causing any major harm in the beginning. Shruti Menon, as Sandhya, is brilliant as a woman who is stuck in a loop and yearns to break away. The shades of gray given to her are understandable because she has suffered a lot at the hands of men. Kubbra Sait, as Pallavi, is a lone fighter who is trying to do the right thing but is let down at many junctures. There is an understated queer angle given to her, which thankfully does not get preachy. Shruthy Jolly as Vidushi is a surprise package who is meek, but she is aware of the surroundings around her and wants to do the right thing for her family.
Shehar Lakhot is a slow-burn neo-noir that does justice to the genre it is exploring. This show needs to be watched for its world-building, direction, and performances. It is indeed a compelling show that explores the stories of small-town Rajasthan.