By Pranjali Wakde
Not a ‘divine dance’, but a poorly-choreographed one – ‘Tandav’, latest Amazon Original, is an unenthusiastic rendition of Indian politics.
“… Aur aapki bewakoofi ne, mere liye aur koi rasta hi nahi chhoda,” Samar Pratap Singh lets out a heartfelt apology as he watches his own father, Devaki Nandan, the Prime Minister since two consecutive terms, spluttering out poison-mixed wine and succumbing to his death. This politically-motivated action forms the basic plotline of the new Amazon Originals, Tandav. Released on 15th January 2021, it is one of the biggest releases of this year and it did (not) do justice to all the anticipation surrounding it.
Tandav is a fictional political thriller series, taking the tumultuous Indian Politics as its background. Protests, false encounters, religious discrimination, secret dealings, corruption – you name it, Tandav has it all. The series is of nine episodes, all striving to hold together the different storylines that Director Ali Abbas Zafar and writer Gaurav Solanki have dumped together. It starts with the typical Indian elections’ scenario, with the already-reigning party, Jan Lok Dal (JLD), expecting to win again. Samar Prathap Singh (Saif Ali Khan) resentment over being sidelined by his father (Tigmanshu Dhulia) turns into a properly hashed-out plan to kill him. However, moments away from seizing the PM’s khursi, his whole plan falls apart, giving birth to a whole different political scene.
The other storyline that runs along with this focus on Shiva Shekhar (Mohd Zeeshan Ayub) and his group of campus activists from Vivekanand University. Picking up issues of farmer oppression and dissent suppression is like an everyday thing for them as if they are picking up a pen. Their activities get themselves involved in politics, even if it’s on students’ level. As the series progresses, these storylines cross paths on different and extremely intricate levels, where the action of one plot influences the other, and vice versa. However, this work is done quite haphazardly because sometimes, the audience is just forced to stop and rewind to understand what exactly is happening.
The star cast is apparently chosen with great care, as it is quite extensive and talented. However, only a handful of them does justice to their roles – the rest of the cast is just bells and whistles. Surprising to see that though Tandav has stars like Saif Ali Khan and Dimple Kapadia in lead roles, their roles don’t do justice to their flawless acting skills. Kapadia’s Anuradha Kishore is a jittery anxious old woman, while Saif’s Samar is all about smiling devilishly, cooking up evil plans and waiting for Gurpal to do all of his dirty work. Ayesha (Sarah Jane Dias), Samar’s wife, seems like an important character initially, but later is seen to be just there, clad in amazing clothes and giving either seductive stares or worried glances.
The ones that grab attention right from the start is Samar’s henchman, Gurpal, played by Sunil Grover. He absolutely nails his role as the cold-faced, fearless hitman, who is surprisingly a cat lover and never misses an episode of a spiritual guru’s show on TV. Another enchanting addition is that of Gauhar Khan as the character of Maithili, Anuradha’s PA. Her colourful sarees stand as a contrast to her smart and serious demeanour and her own set of ambitions, different from her employer, is enough to keep her in the game. Other commendable actors include Kritika Kamra as Sana Mir, in love with her Professor Jigar, played by Dino Morea, who is still hung up on his ex and soon-to-be-Dean Sandhya (Sandhya Mridul).
A downfall of Tandav is its coverage of political elements – it is a watered-down version of the real Indian politics, where the big focus is only on the exaggerated political drama. The director could have provided a meaningful insight on the political power hierarchy and mass movements, but then decided to put stock in its high-quality production, that drips down from the cinematography of every scene. The elaborate setups, ‘aesthetically’ shaded sarees and kurtas, using only crystal containers and glasses to drink whiskey – everything tries to put a curtain on the problems of Tandav. Whether it is intentionally or unintentionally on the director’s part, one might never know.
The series tries to provide a new twist in every episode but forgets to keep up with the existing problems, which diminishes the potential Tandav actually had. The loose ends don’t get their deserved conclusions, as Samar’s last dialogue, “Ab iss khel mei majja aane laga hai”, hints at how this little game of Samar’s is not yet finished. Though there’s no news of the next season, the ending strongly indicates the same – and would definitely explain a lot. Nevertheless, Tandav will still remain as a highly dramatized attempt of showcasing Indian political scenario, sprinkled with unnecessary scenes and too many gaalis.