Boman Irani in a still from Masoom. (courtesy: YouTube)
Cast: Boman Irani, Samara Tijori, Upasana Singh, Manjari Fadnnis, Veer Rajwant Singh, Manu Rishi Chaddha, Akashdeep Arora, Sarika Singh, Sukhpal Singh, Nikhil Nair
Director: Mihir Desai
Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
Adapted from Blood, an Irish psychological thriller created by British screenwriter by Sophie Petzal, Masoom, a Hotstar Specials series, uses muted methods to tell the story of a dysfunctional family and the lies that its members tell each other to their own long-term detriment.
This latest addition to the steadily growing list of British shows adapted for India relocates the plot to a sleepy village in Punjab, where a veteran doctor and his three grown-up children must deal with the repercussions of the accidental death of the former's ailing wife.
The series zooms in on the dead woman's youngest daughter, who has had an uneasy relationship with her family and has been away from home for years. She returns to the village of Falauli, where her father, Dr. Balraj Kapoor (Boman Irani in his web series debut), runs a nursing home named after his spouse.
The memory of a disturbing incident that she witnessed as a child haunts Sana Kapoor (Samara Tijori). It lies at the root of her sneaking suspicion that a false story is being spun around her mother's death, which she firmly believes was a murder and not an accident.
Sana risks her ties with her father, which has been unstable at the best of times, and her two older siblings as she determinedly chases what she perceives as the truth.
The six-episode series does a fair job of localizing the story and factoring in psychological and cultural tinges that seem just perfect for the story of a domineering father and his diktats. But in terms of pace, it is mostly desultory.
With a patriarch looming large over the family, a legacy of lies hangs over the Kapoors of Falauli, with each member of the household hiding something from the others. Sana is bitter, her sister Sanjana (Manjari Fadnnis) is confused, and brother Sanjeev (Veer Rajwant Singh) is on the horns of a dilemma aggravated by his inability to make a clean breast of who he is.
A patriarch's ambitions and troubles, the lingering ramifications of a childhood trauma, a death by suicide over a decade ago and a marriage run aground are among the narrative elements that have gone into the Masoom plot. While some of the strands deliver the goods, a few others fall prey to monotony.
The show starts quite strong and piques our interest as secrets tumble out of the family closet. It sustains the momentum until about the halfway mark and then begins to irreversibly run out of steam. It seeks to inject gravitas into the drama by using Punjabi poetry and song (definitely not of the dance-floor variety). Some of it serves the intended purpose.
Masoom, however, does not deliver the instant dramatic and emotional highs of Disney+Hotstar's other Hindi British series adaptations - Out of Love, Criminal Justice and Rudra: The Edge of Darkness.
Shows on other streaming platforms (Mithya and the recent The Broken News for instance) also come to mind as one watches Masoom and wonders what might be missing here. Adaptations inevitably demonstrate both the possibilities and pitfalls of transporting stories from one market to another. The trick obviously lies in getting the narrative nuances and plot tweaks right in terms of authenticity and assimilation.
That is where Masoom flounders just a touch. Its innate strengths - the acting is the principal one; the manner in which the interplay of emotions is dovetailed into social and familial happenings comes in a close second - give the series legs that are firm and steady enough to spur it forward until the run-up to the finale. The wobbles kick in when it sets out to untangle the loose ends of the mystery and allowing less than convincing stylistic elements sneak into the equation.
In the opening sequence of Masoom, Sana is on her way to the village. Her car has a flat tyre. She continues to drive regardless. A police constable (Manu Rishi Chadha) stops her and threatens action against her. But as soon as he realizes that the girl is Dr Balraj Kapoor's daughter, he changes his tune and escorts her home, unaware of the reason for her return to Falauli.
The cop subsequently crops up at frequent intervals especially because Sana is desperate to get to the bottom of the truth and turns to him for help.
In one flashback sequence late in the show, the girl's mother Gunwant (Upasana Singh, on whom falls the onus of establishing the Punjabi ethos of the household) tells Sana: "Sacchai agar dawa hai toh zaher bhi hai (The truth is both panacea and poison)." But that does not stop the girl from asserting to her dad: I want the truth.
The truth is dicey for Dr Kapoor because he is about to plunge into electoral politics. He cannot afford a scandal of any kind. But Sana isn't the kind to give up without going the whole hog.
Sana's relentless efforts to find out what really happened on the day her mother died puts her at odds not only with her dad, but also with her two siblings, neither of whom has had it any easier in this household.
Masoom, executive produced by Gurmmeet Singh (as the showrunner), scripted by Satyam Tripathi and directed by Mihir Desai, is slow and steady all right, but it does not generate much of a burn in terms of plot detailing and character development. It follows a clear arc and yet seems to drift at times.
The sombre, understated opening sequences are certainly not without merit. Many of the key scenes are handled with some skill and empathy. It is the final episode, which is devoted to throwing light on the circumstances that have torn father and daughter apart, that is a letdown because it meanders into mush.
Masoom is principally a father-daughter drama about a man who is neither a good dad nor a particularly dependable husband. It hinges on Irani's unfussy, unshowy performance that hits the steadiest of notes in a patchy series. His is a sterling turn in a middling show.
Samara Tijori holds her own, delivering a solid account of herself as a girl tormented by her own family in ways that she, in her innocence, can barely comprehend, let alone counter. The best moments of the well-intentioned but uneven Masoom ride on the two pivotal performances.
Boman Irani, Samara Tijori, Upasana Singh, Manjari Fadnnis, Veer Rajwant Singh, Manu Rishi Chaddha, Akashdeep Arora, Sarika Singh, Sukhpal Singh, Nikhil Nair