A still from the film. (courtesy: YouTube)
A murder on the beach shakes the swish set of Alibaug out of its self-obsessed stupor. Posited as both a preface and the probable final act of Karmma Calling, a seven-part Hotstar Specials series, the prelude points to what lies ahead for the denizens of the seaside enclave of the rich and the callously amoral.
A young woman with vengeance on her mind is on the prowl. The girl's prime target is a 1990s Bollywood diva-turned-socialite and her family. Protecting her turf comes easy to the obdurate matriarch. On the personal front, however, life isn't smooth sailing for her. Her husband strays and gets away with it. Her children do not see eye to eye with her.
As life goes on in the neighbourhood, dark secrets, pent-up rage, extra-marital liaisons, crass conspiracies, fake friendships and brazen betrayals come to the fore and upset a carefully constructed facade. The plot, busy and overheated, has momentum.
Karmma Calling moves back and forth in time to provide the context for the tale of vendetta. But it never quite shakes off its unremarkable by-the-numbers approach to a tale that has been told before.
In each episode, the revenge-seeker focuses her attention on an individual who - there is a whole bunch of them - wronged her and her upright dad two decades ago and went unpunished. She is now back to settle scores.
On her toes and unyielding, the lady is meticulous in her planning. More often than not, she catches her victims unawares and achieves her end. But despite the plethora of twists and turns that Karmma Calling throws at us, the show, adapted for India (from the American series Revenge) and directed by Ruchi Narain, is anything but an edge-of-the-seat humdinger.
The revenge that Karmma Calling served is cold - and stale. The picture-perfect setting and the glammed-up people who inhabit the space are overly inert when they aren't outright stodgy and dull. That is not to say that the show is wearisome all the way. It does spring to a bit of life now and then, but the truly intriguing, impactful moments do not last long enough to lend heft to the series.
An engagement party is disrupted when the man of the hour goes missing. He is found lifeless on a beach. Cut to six months earlier. The comely Karma Talwar (Namrata Sheth) rents and then buys an Alibaug bungalow next to the town's most famous address, Kothari Mansion.
The mansion is where Indrani Kothari (Raveena Tandon) lives with her perfidious husband Kaushal (Gaurav Sharma), Harvard-returned son Ahaan (Varun Sood) and restive daughter Mira (debutante Devangshi Sen).
The Kotharis are ruthless power players hand in gloves with other moneyed manipulators of their ilk. But all isn't obviously well in the household. Karma spots an opportunity in the deepening strife and looks for a vantage point from where she can launch her mission to bring down Indrani Kothari's family and business empire.
Private jets and ostentatious houses, charity galas and polo matches, intimate family dinners and flashy dandiya nights are an integral part of Indrani Kothari's life. The sudden appearance of the mysterious Karma Talwar puts her on her guard.
The family's head of security, Sameer (Vikramjeet Virk), and Indrani's assistant Yana (Amy Aela), are the wary lady's go-to people as she tries to figure out what has brought Karma Talwar to Alibaug. The audience obviously knows what she is up to so we are always a step ahead of the characters.
Karma's father (Rohit Bose Roy in a special appearance) was a senior employee of the company owned by the Kotharis. Framed in a bank loan scam that he had no hand in, his life and career were ruined. Justice for him is what his daughter now seeks.
All manner of people - a top lawyer-turned-MP (Shataf Figar) who aspires to be India's law minister, a healer (Alpana Buch) who runs a shady trust that receives donations from the Kotharis, Indrani's best friend Dolly Bhatia (Waluscha De Sousa) and, of course, Indrani's immediate family - are in Karma's line of fire.
Indrani and Kaushal's marriage hangs by a thread, their son has no patience for his mother's ways, and the daughter is a rebel determined not to play by the rules her mom sets. The two Kothari scions spark many a crisis as they seek to dismantle the social barriers that prevent them from venturing forth into the world and doing their own thing.
Karma schemes incessantly. She receives help, most of it unsolicited, from flamboyant entrepreneur Zane Khan (Viraf Patell). The man has links with her unhappy past. So does cafe owner Vedant Koli (debutant Rachit Singh). With neither of the two men is Karma's relationship easy.
As Karma and Ahaan drift into a tentative relationship, trouble mounts for the Kotharis and their acquaintances. The revenge-seeker's acts often threaten to recoil on her. But she is determined not to be deflected from her path.
It isn't a cakewalk. The woman Karma is up against is a formidable adversary not given to half measures. That apart, the latter's right-hand man is ready to go to any length to protect his boss. The battle of attrition between the two women serves the purpose of driving the series forward.
But as Karmma Calling darts from one thing to another, it frequently flounders and loses its way. Over-explication of character motives and plot points blunts the edge of the tale and pushes the series into a rather jaded loop.
In her second web series, Raveena Tandon is the pivot. She does not stop trying to hold Karmma Calling together but finds little significant support from the rest of the cast.
What most of the actors, including Namrata Sheth, who plays the show's principal character, bring to the table is nothing to write home about. They are adequate at best as they wait and wait for a miracle to occur and amp up the proceedings. Since that never happens, all the heavy lifting is left to Raveena Tandon. It weighs her - and the series - down.
Raveena Tandon, Namrata Sheth, Varun Sood, Vikramjeet Virk, Rohit Roy