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A meditation on grief and greed

Kaala Paani – Hindi (Netflix)2023★★★☆☆3.5/5Director:Amit Golani, Sameer SaxenaCast:Mona Singh, Ashutosh Gowarikar, Sukant Goel, Arushi Sharma

Kaala Pani is set in December 2027. But it reminds one of May 2021 when the pandemic raged and people were dying outside hospitals. In fact, the seven-episode series ought to carry a trigger warning — for those among us who lost loved ones to Covid and could not accord them a proper farewell.

Written by Biswapati Sarkar (of TVF fame) and a few others, Kaala Pani is, at its heart, a dense meditation on grief and greed. Ambitious in scope, the series is set in Andamans in the near future. The islands are awaiting tourists for a year-end festival while a superbug is silently poisoning its drinking water source. The rest of the storyline is pretty standard survival drama fare with the usual suspects pushing the narrative forward — the lone whistleblower whom nobody believes at first (a brilliant cameo by Mona Singh), red-tape-ridden government response, the let-us-make-a-quick-buck smarties, the family that’s at the wrong place at the wrong time… What sets the series apart though is its lyricism — be it in the cinematography that makes the islands look both menacing and alluring or the way multiple characters grapple with their personal tragedies — subtly, with that nameless dread never too far away.

Don’t go looking for a survival thriller — this is not one. Each episode is nearly an hour long and it takes its time, deliberately, to bring multiple narratives together, examine lost threads leisurely, pose questions about human greed, ecology and possession and sniff out distress in its many forms. But this approach does not always work for it. The viewer tends to get lost in the many stories it is trying to say and some conversations and incidents seem contrived, to make a lofty point. But full marks to the ensemble cast, each of whom plays their part with conviction. Special mention to Amey Wagh in the role of Ketan, a police officer with suspect morals. What a natural!

(Published 20 October 2023, 18:33 IST)

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