Cast: Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Ali Fazal, Pankaj Tripathi, Divyendu, Rasika Dugal, Vikrant Massey, Rajesh Tailang, Sheeba Chaddha, Subhrajyoti Barat, Shweta Tripathi
Director: Karan Anshuman
Ratings: 2 Stars (Out of 5)
Amazon Prime's third made-in-India original, Mirzapur (Season 1, 9 Episodes) is a crime series that never ventures beyond familiar terrain. Its trite narrative template undermines its ambition to be the web's answer to Gangs of Wasseypur. With nothing to say, it inevitably flubs its lines.
Lawless Uttar Pradesh boondocks have been done to death by Hindi cinema. Mirzapur, created by Karan Anshuman (who helmed Amazon Prime's Inside Edge too) and Puneet Krishna, forays into the lanes and bylanes of the titular town and dishes out more of the same in a regressive style that does everything but push the medium forward.
This is, by all reckoning, by-the-numbers storytelling that wallows unabashedly in the most hackneyed of the gangsters-in-a-moral-wasteland genre devices. A formidable cast - Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Ali Fazal, Pankaj Tripathi, Divyendu, Rasika Dugal, Vikrant Massey, Rajesh Tailang, Sheeba Chaddha, Subhrajyoti Barat, Shweta Tripathi and others - does its best to give the series the legs to run the distance. But no matter how good they are, there isn't much they can do to inject life into this dreary, flabby story of a god-forsaken small town controlled with an iron hand by a businessman-don who has to contend with many rivalries to hold on to his blood-smeared turf.
The violence in Mirzapur is gratuitously graphic and the language overly abhorrent. The dialogues are peppered with four-latter words that serve no apparent purpose, the many acts of killing are sought to be passed off as 'creative'. One killer has his victim intone the Hindi alphabet before setting him ablaze. Another teaches his boss and bosom pal how using a razor with murderous intent is way more 'fun' than pumping a bullet into somebody. "Iss sey maarna kala hai, bhaiyaji (killing with a razor is an art, brother), he says before proceeding to slit the prosthetic throat of an unsuspecting young man who runs into the two criminals in a public lavatory.
What's more, by the end of the series, we are also treated to the grisly spectacle of a man being bobbitised. Mercifully, the actual point of impact stays off camera. We only see blood splashed on the face of the perpetrator. This deed is masterminded by a wheelchair-bound old man (played by Kulbhushan Kharbanda) who whiles away his time watching television shows about the hunting and mating practices of predatory animals in their habitats. Mirzapur is a jungle and anything goes here, get it?
But the shock tactics that the series resorts to does not in any way contribute to heightening either dramatic tension or creating a sense of realism. For a series in which fear is supposed to be the key - yes, dread is the tool the town's gun mafia uses to intimidate everybody into submission - it delivers little that could make you recoil in disgust and horror.
Barring a couple of sequences in the first two episodes - in one a bunch of armed goons barge into the home of an upright lawyer only to face unexpected resistance from the family, in the other the lawyer's two grown-up sons are summoned by the crime lord and given an offer to join the gang - Mirzapur never finds a way out of the drably pedestrian. Once the main premise of the story has been set up - it centres on the crime syndicate on the one hand and the lawyer's two sons on the other - it settles into a predictable, desultory pattern.
Mirzapur is known for its carpet industry, but Akhandanand Tripathi aka Kaaleen Bhaiya (Pankaj Tripathi) uses his legitimate trade as a cover for his guns and drugs business. His wayward son Munna (Divyendu), driven by an entrenched sense of entitlement, unleashes a reign of terror on his college campus as well as in the city to the occasional consternation of his father who wants the boy to stop acting like a small-time goon and prepare himself to be the next King of Mirzapur. But the old man's plea generally falls on deaf ears.
Munna's wings are clipped when two inseparable siblings, Guddu Pandit (a beefed-up Ali Fazal), a hot-headed bodybuilder who aspires to be Mr. Purvanchal, Bablu Pandit (Vikrant Massey, cast against type), a staid but sharp accountancy topper, enter Kaaleen Bhaiya's inner circle and start playing a key role first in the distribution of kattas (homespun guns) and then in the drugs business.
The storyline is replete with detours aimed at stretching the canvas. A flashback reveals the birth of an underworld rivalry between Kaaleen Bhaiya's evil empire and the Jaunpur fiefdom of Rati Shankar Shukla (Subhrajyoti Barat) - it leads to many back-stabbings, killings and murder bids. Another rivalry hinges on love triangle involving a corrupt policeman's daughter Sweety Gupta (Shriya Pilgaonkar). It pits Munna against Guddu.
The oft-repeated politics-underworld nexus is underscored by the presence of a malleable politician funded by Kaaleen Bhaiya as elections draw near. There is also a college students' union election that sees Munna being opposed by Sweety's li'l sis Golu (Shweta Tripathi) - another reason for friction between the Pandit brothers and the Tripathis. In Golu's entry scene, set in a corner of the college library, she reads a titillating passage in a Hindi bestseller and pleasures herself until she is covered in sweat. This 'secret' facet of her character is never brought to the fore again.
In the Tripathi mansion, too, there is sexually uninhibited woman, Beena (Rasika Dugal), the second wife of the ageing Akhandanand. He refuses to let her be the woman on top that she craves to be. Not the kind to give up easily, she devises a method to hit back at patriarchy - with disastrous results.
Be it the sex act or manslaughter, Mirzapur treats them both in an annoyingly clinical manner. Never has the passionate union of human bodies been so devoid of ardour nor have gang wars and shootouts ever seemed so utterly perfunctory. That, in a nutshell, is Mirzapur: it's more fizzle than sizzle.