Charlie Chopra And The Mystery Of Solang Valley
It is still a Wednesday but we have a double header in store in what is the start of a veey busy weekend. So once again, with a deep breath and an eye on the target, lets get started. First up, I finished watching the new Hindi series Charlie Chopra And The Mystery Of Solang Valley which is now streaming on SonyLiv. An official adaptation of the Agatha Christie novel, The Sittaford Mystery, I was particularly interested in Charlie Chopra, given that it was one of my favourite directors Vishal Bhardwaj who was making his OTT debut. If you are familiar with his filmography and the adaptations that he had rendered, he is ofyen known to take the core idea, and weave his own story around it. His famous Shakespearean works of Haider, Omkara and Maqbool would probably be the best amongst all adaptations according to me!
SonyLiv is one OTT platform which, in my opinion, is probably the best in terms of content. And this time, they made a unique creative decision of releasing the pilot episode of Charlie Chopra a couple of months ago. Now, I was prompted to give my opinion on it by so many of my readers, yet I resisted the temptation, simply because I do not think it is fair for a reviewer to give his opinion based on just the pilot episode(there is again nothing wrong in giving it too, just that I don’t believe in it). But what the first episode did was to set the cat amongst the pigeons, with many people talking about it. Along with that, there was a conscious cry on the demand for the remaining episodes, which in turn was a huge victory for SonyLiv who had also weaved a quiet little contest around the show. Finally the show Charlie Chopra & The Mystery Of Solang Valley is out, and here are my thoughts on it.
Story & Screenplay
An official adaptation of the novel The Sittaford Murders by Agatha Christie, Charlie Chopra And The Mystery Of Solang Valley follows the story of Charlie as she investigates the murder of a Brigadier wherein everyone is a suspect. Who is the murderer?? The story here is a typical murder mystery transpiring against the snow-capped mountains of Manali and Solang which is intriguing and keeps you guessing till the very end. There is something about Agatha Christie and the world that she creates leading up to the eventual murder that draws you in, instantly. And because you are drawn in from the start, the guessing game begins with the multiple spread of characters on display wherein everyone is a suspect. And Charlie Chopra perfectly replicates this inherent Agatha Christie trait. The screenplay starting at 6 episodes of roughly 30 odd minutes to 50 odd minutes is the perfect length wherein the entire mystery doesn’t drag along, while sufficiently providing each of the suspects screen time to be interrogated!
Charlie Chopra instantly benefits from the medium of a webshow. It doesn’t quite have a time constraint as seen in films which were reflective in movies like Death On The Nile or A Haunting In Venice. There is a good amount of time laid out in fleshing this murder mystery that makes for a compelling watch. The drama does open with a spooky setting of a seance underway where the camera pans on each of the characters which in turn would act as potential suspects as the drama unfolds further. In the opening sequence itself, it is predicted by one of the characters that there has been a murder which has taken place involving a character. And the turn of events is actually proven to be correct as a Brigadier has been found in cold blood at his own place. Enter Charlie Chopra, from Patiala Punjab 147001 to crack the case wherein ‘Case Jitna Mushkil, Fees Utni Cut'(she charges a fee cut if the case is complicated).
The proceedings are engrossing and interesting particularly with the ongoing investigation. Here, I would like to give a lot of credit to the writers for treating a murder mystery as a drama and not infusing elements of a thriller to cash on the urgency. The drama here is almost simmering on low flame and unfolding at a leisurely pace. It is a slow beginning and first moves into flashback by giving a gist of all the character traits of the various characters along with the character dynamics which they share with each other. Instantly, you are drawn in the narrative while starting with the guessing game as each character is investigated, and with everyone having a motive. The drama does branch into multiple subplots pertaining to each character, and at times you require focus and attention to enjoy the intrinsic flavour of the drama.
One thing that stands out throughout the drama is the character of Charlie Chopra often breaking the fourth wall. This was a tricky proposition given that if not done well, then it could lead to dismay and irritation. But it was so well executed, often very quick, tactfully introducing witty one-liners along the way that made for a fun watch!
The events leading up to the final act are filled with subtle twists and turns. Each time you feel that a character is finally pinned down, a twist and a few bodies later turn the tide elsewhere. I did like how the writers went an extra mile in raising the stakes in the final act with all characters in one room. Perhaps, the grand reveal could have been executed a little better(or even held back till the very last minute), but it was indeed a satisfying ending. I quickly went back to the novel to check if this was a faithful adaptation, and I was pleasantly surprised to know that the ending is an alternate one here. So folks who may have read the novel are in for a treat too! Overall, the screenplay is extremely well written and it makes for a wonderful watch. And things look bright for its second season too!
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are conversational with each character letting out his/her own flavour with the conversations. There is a sense of calmness amidst the storm and it is represented perfectly through the lines. Also, what the creative decision of breaking the fourth wall did was to have elements of quirky humour tactfully thrown in the narrative. The music has an intriguing quality to it particularly with its theme that plays out with the beginning credits. But the songs do have range as well with streaks of classical music sprinkled in the narrative. And only a genius like Vishal Bhardwaj can do that! The BGM is gentle almost acting as a flame to enhance the flavour of the drama while opening different taste buds. It did not overpower the drama but instead aided it!
The cinematography captured the grim vibe of the drama so well with the snowy capped mountains of Manali and Solang playing an important character in the series. The editing is crisp and sharp and consistently keeps the drama moving without any lags. The costume department deserves a shoutout for the quirky outfit of the protagonist. The art department does create an ambience of mystery too with the decors of the house with a wooden floor. Director Vishal Bhardwaj had said in an interview that he had previously intended to make a film on this subject which was later converted into this webseries. And that was honestly the best decision that he had taken then. By doing so, it suited his narrative style of a slow and simmering murder mystery with such well fleshed out characters. He did create some tense moments at various junctures in the drama which were intriguing and engrossing. The direction was top notch here.
The performances are spectacular by a cast to absolutely die for. And this might be the first instance where we get to watch everyone from the Shah household under one roof(correct me if I am wrong, please?). Naseeruddin Shah as Roy is simply terrific in that opening act and he sets the ball rolling for the drama to follow. Ratna Pathak Shah as Mrs. Bharucha absolutely nails the Parsi accent which is one of the most difficult accents to crack(and coming from a Parsi Bawa who is writing this review). It is a thin line and if you go overboard, it will invariably be a caricature. But kudos to her for nailing it beautifully! Vivaan Shah as Jimmy has his moments to shine. Imaad Shah as Billu is terrific and his performance would surely keep you guessing. Heeba Shah is good too as Hanif’s wife.
Ashique Hussain as Hanif is natural to the core. Paoli Dam as Saloni shines despite a limited screen time. Chandan Roy Sanyal who plays her husband is absolutely brilliant and his creepy deneanor adds layers to the drama. Pankhuri Gidwani, Karan Nagar, Emily Acland(terrific in particular) and Shataf Figar, all have their moments to shine. Bhagyashree Tarke as Waseema is phenomenal and does a wonderful job. Lara Dutta as Wilayat is wonderfully restrained with expressions as soft as poetry in an excellent act. Ghanshyam Garg as Inspector Narayan has streaks of humour in his performance in a job well done. Lalit Parimoo as Mohan does a pretty good job too.
Gulshan Grover as Brigadier Rawat is a revelation here with a brilliantly subdued act. Baharul Islam as Barua delivers a layered performance. Pulkit Makol as Varun has improved his game by leaps and bounds since I first saw him in Your Honor. He has clearly worked on his craft and his second home-coming is immensely impressive. He boasts of a great presence onscreen in a job done really well. Neena Gupta as Janaki is excellent and pulls off her role with her usual set of brilliance. Priyanshu Painyuli as Sitaram is dependable and quite affable while acting as a perfect foil for Charlie Chopra to flourish.
This brings me to Charlie Chopra AKA Wamiqa Gabbi who is in red hot form this year. And she extends her brilliance here as well by balancing a razor sharp character with bouts of humour. She is simply brilliant in each and every scene wherein she holds your attention. It was a towering act by a talented performer whose name you shall be hearing more often in days to come!
Charlie Chopra And The Mystery Of Solang Valley is a simmering murder mystery with spectacular performances that comes with my highest recommendation. Available on SonyLiv and Highly Recommended!