society This is not a show for the faint of heart, or for the easily offended. This miniseries holds nothing sacred, no profession, and no side of the political aisle, no layer of the socio-economic pie. The show makes its fundamental theme clear in its first scene, where the protagonist, Delhi society Police Inspector Hathiram Chaudhary, explains how the world is divided between Swarg, Dharti, and Paatal Lok (Heaven, Earth, and Hell) to his trainee, IPS Aspirant Imran Ansari. Then there is a murder attempt on a TV News Anchor famously critical of the government, and the strings begin to unravel, as we find out the different society stakes all the characters have in the incident.
Paatal Lok review will be largely spoiler-free, as the society twists and turns of the story are the USP of the entire miniseries. The main theme centers on the aforementioned divisions. We see the divisions between different castes, divisions between religions, divisions between hierarchal posts, divisions between economic statuses, and the divide between big primetime TV news anchors and small-town journalists doing the legwork and keeping their ears to the ground. The show completely strips off the ‘Beauty in Diversity’ narrative that we all love to gloat about, exposing a very dirty and divided society underneath. Dirty doesn’t mean society inefficient, mind you, everyone has their role here. But it becomes harder and harder for people to break out of their assigned roles as we travel down the socio-economic ladder, forcing some to do terrible things out of desperation.
A secondary theme of the show is about the role of the media in the modern-day. It talks about how, in the past, those involved in illicit and unethical activities aimed to keep a low profile, and stay under the radar. Now,society they all seek to own the radar. Anyone who has been trying to keep up with the news in our country will definitely relate to this narrative thread, and will appreciate the show’s no-nonsense approach, especially when it shows how quickly morality falls by the wayside when it stands in the way of society personal gain, such as in the case of another TV News Anchor everyone knows about, who’s famous for running ‘debates’ at primetime…
The show perhaps lacks in its dependence on exposition-delivering characters, and often fails to follow the basic rule of ‘Show Don’t Tell’. It also spends a significant amount of time on certain characters’ backstories, like those of the murder suspects, without managing to give a very society clear window into what they’re like in the present day. The final episode was also somewhat underwhelming, while it tied up most of the plot threads, it failed to do so convincingly enough in my book.
Regardless, the show is very much a criticism of society looking at things in black and white. It shows you the best and the worst of the police, the best and the worse of the media, the best and the worst moment’ of the suspects’ lives. It shows you real, violent mob-lynchings, but also shows you the subtle jabs and taunts that Officer Ansari has to face. But more often than not, it lives in the grey, because the best and the worst are rare extremes, while our lives are mostly grey. It’s just that certain things are darker shades of grey than others.
P.S. A cool thing about Paatal Lok is how it uses dogs as symbols for characters’ moods, feelings, and situations. I won’t be the one to point the instances out for you, it is very rewarding to notice and connect the dots between the dogs and the character on your own.