With Pataal Lok the genre of thriller seems to have come of age on the OTT platforms in India and particularly in Hindi. Since Sacred Games had shocked everyone with it abuses, nudity and rawness, it had become a landmark as far as digital content is concerned. Sacred Games had it all—Hindu-Muslim politics, gangsters, issues of transgenders, police, politics the business of religion and ‘spirituality’ etc- you name it and we had it in Sacred Games. But the fact remains that with all the convolutions in the narrative, Sacred Games still remained a very linear story dealing with all the issues in a very superficial manner. Consequently, the web series did shock us, impressed with some brilliant acting, but unfortunately wasn’t able to move us deep inside.
Pataal Lok is a 9 episode thriller series which tells the story in a way that it feels complete and stays with you for a longer while. But its comparison with Sacred Games is inevitable. Both the screenplays used abusive language but Sacred Games had too much of it, at time unnecessarily; Pataal Lok uses it rather discreetly. Pataal Lok uses nudity too discreetly and in a way that enhances the impact of the visual.
Some slurs like Manjaar or katua have also been used but are aptly to highlight the harsh realities the marginalized and minorities have to face and subtly point out the fact that even well meaning people end up using these terms because the discrimination has seeped into our language through ages.
The intimate scenes in Sacred Games were over done and at times unnecessary too, Pataal Lok uses intimate scenes tactfully and they have a significance to the plot.
The one thing which makes Pataal Lok distinct and laudable is its storytelling. All the above mentioned issues and more have been highlighted some of them fleetingly many of them as an integral part of the plot.
The first dialogue of the series sets the precedent. The series in subtle manner raises the issue of Whatsapp forwards and indicates at the main plot of the story—whatever is publicized strongly need not be true. While explaining to his colleagues Imran Ansari (Ishwak Singh) about Swarg Lok, Dharti Lok and Pataal Lok, he ends by saying, Waise to yeh shastro me likha hai, lekin maine Whatsapp par padha hai (Although, its written in the holy book, but I have read it on whatsapp). This tells us that officers like Hathi Ram are also relying on Whatsapp forwards instead of checking the fact whether it is written in the holy book or not.
Although the story deals with a police inspector desperate to get a promotion, landing a significant investigation, it very subtly works on multiple levels; islamophobia in the various government departments including security forces which in the story finally culminates into a heart rending statement of one of the accused father’s statement –kamaal hai, jisse maine musalman banne nahi diya, aap logo ne use Jihadi bana diya. (It’s surprising, I did not let him become a Muslim and you made him a Jihadi!)
Since the main story deal with a conspiracy to kill a journalist- how the inside world of media operates, how regional press suffers more, is known and paid less but is more aware of the reality, how ratings dominate any news item or journalistic ethics; how social media has impacted the world of media; how the missionary zeal has waned and survival and ambition dominates the profession and above all how fake news at times(very frequently now) suppresses the real news.
The caste-based atrocities are not just mentioned, they are integral part of the story. Close interweaving of crime and politics; journalism and politics; politics and casteism and minorities and our attitude towards transgenders—they are not just mentioned or portrayed by a character, but are integral part of the story.
It is a policeman’s journey to find the truth, initially official later unofficial as he is suspended in the process of the investigation. Ans suddenly it becomes a lone man’s journey to find the truth, initially to achieve his ambition-the much awaited promotion, but in the process it becomes more of his curiosity than just a path to his ambition.
As he uncovers the truth layer by layer, the ‘loser’ policeman desperate for a promotion transforms into just a common man fighting for his survival. By the time he comes across the reality/truth behind a conspiracy to kill a journalist-he is disillusioned and is just happy to be with his family and lead a simple life.
In this manner, the story transcends the plot and the credit goes to its actors-right from Jaideep Ahlawat, Neeraj Kabi, Abhishek Mukherjee, Gul Panaag Ishwak Singh, Asif Khan-they are all wonderful in their performance.
Its narrative technique and controlled screenplay make Pataal Lok far more than just a crime thriller, more than what Sacred Games had to offer with its glittering cast.