Shehar Lakhot(Season 1)
It is a Thursday and we are one day away from the ‘Animal’ weekend. And as the hype around Animal is slowly intensifying, Amazon Prime has quietly slipped out a content for which there has been virtually zero marketing! With that, I finished watching the new Hindi show Shehar Lakhot which is now streaming on Amazon Prime. Now, I was kind of shocked given that Amazon Prime India chose not to market one of their shows well, particularly more because the show was directed by Navdeep Singh who is the prolific mind behind films like NH-10, Laal Kaptaan and Manorama Six Feet Under. If you have been privy to his filmography, then you would know the neo-noir space that he dabbles with his content. As a result, his films have been very earthy, often playing out against some intriguing atmospherics while slow but surely grappling you with some interesting characters on show. And mostly, the characters are grey due to which they bring with them, a sense of unpredictability to the drama and as a viewer, you really are caught unaware of their reactions to the situation where they find thenselves in. But films of Navdeep require patience to sit through them while allowing the tension to slowly be built up in the drama. Given his past accomplishments, I had high hopes from Shehar Lakhot that also boasts of a staggering ensemble cast. So then, does Shehar Lakhot manage to impress, let’s find out.
Story & Screenplay
Shehar Lakhot follows the story of a protagonist who visits his hometown after a decade only to be embroiled in a pickle amidst the politics of the land that is on full display. Will he survive the onslaught? The story here is a slow burn and requires patience to understand the intrinsic details of the drama. In between there is a murder, a riot and an interesting bunch of characters with the politics of the land at its epicenter, all of which is flavourful while simmering in the heat of the dusty bylanes of Lakhot. The screenplay standing at 8 episodes of roughly 50 odd to 70 odd minutes each is a little too long and it most definitely ought to have been trimmed to wrap it under 7 episodes. But if you are willing to apply yourself and invest in the drama, there are some rewards to be had in the drama which follows a classic neo-noir template, much like Navdeep’s other films. I liked how the hierarchy of power amidst was highlighted amidst undercurrents of certain relevant issues in today’s times.
Written by Devika Bhagat and Navdeep Singh, the drama does open on an intriguing note with a dismembered hand popping out of a ground, only to be discovered by a bunch of boys. Soon, you are introduced to the protagonist as he is tasked with visiting his hometown to take care of a conflict that is created between a marble factory owner and the tribals. As he makes his way to the dusty town of Lakhot, he is almost able to smell danger along the way! The writers do well in developing an interesting mix of characters who are grey, and all of them are stakeholders in an intriguing town laced with a crimefest. The beauty lies in the detailing wherein you can’t quite figure the core of the story until the fourth episode. The idea of the writers to run riot in multiple directions across multiple subplots must be complimented, given that it adds a layer of unpredictability to the drama while also presenting the politics of the land wonderfully well. Once again, it is a slow burn while tying all the loose ends at the end, so stick by the drama and allow it to surprise you.
I am a fan of world building and character development and I have often been vocal of how these aspects of writing and filmmaking are a rarity in Hindi Cinema. But if there was that one criticism that I had with the writing, then that was with the overstretched world building. I did feel that the line of urgency could have been drawn a little earlier given that the setup was already well established, by simply moving ahead with the drama. To give you a perspective, some plot points like the Gay angle did not drastically contribute to the screenplay, and if taken out may not have altered the screenplay either. There is a chance that some viewers may leave the show halfway for the same reason, even before the good part begins. But once the fun element begins, it will keep you glued until the very end.
The star quality of the writing for me was the character dynamics that kept shifting between characters due to their own vested interests. The politics of the land that ensues while slowly bringing multiple plot points together may not have been easy, but that aspect was executed very well. There is a hint of black humour sprinkled in the narrative amidst multiple twists and turns that will keep you engrossed in the second half of the drama. The unassuming quality of the writing is impressive when you realise the direction that the story is taking eventually.
The events leading to the final act are interesting with the levels of urgency that peak at the right time. The writers aren’t afraid of raising the stakes in the game by eliminating some of the characters that adds to the excitement levels in the drama. The finale chase sequence was laced with humour while the final act did have an underlying layer of emotions while creating an ambience of tension to keep you on tenterhooks. With all the plot points nicely tied up together at the end, I was indeed satisfied with the writing that is far too unassuming than I had ever imagined!
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues filled with expletives definitely impart an earthy flavour to the narrative. I also liked how the writers intricately added character traits of various characters through the lines. For instance, the character of Rajbir would alternate between English and Hindi lines that added so much flavour to the proceedings. The music features multiple songs that appear at specific situations at the end of episode. And the soundtrack is underrated while communicating the different moods of the drama wonderfully well. The BGM definitely heightens the drama at various junctures while also contributing to the black humour during the course of the narrative.
The cinematography captures some stunning frames featuring the dusty bylanes of an intriguing town that instantly creates an atmosphere of danger. The costumes of character go in line with the mysterious nature of the characters. The editing of the show could have been sharper to cut down a few lags in the screenplay, particularly in the first half of the show. Director Navdeep Singh does a fabulous job in creating an ambience in the drama which instantly showcases signs of danger to the viewer. Also, all characters are grey and Navdeep utilizes them very well while allowing the politics of the land to play in the background. The direction is excellent here while also being brilliantly unassuming with the narration!
The performances are excellent by the ensemble cast. Rishi Mehta as Ranga, Lavina Sadhwani as Pinky, Gyan Prakash as Rajendra, Vikas Bhakri as RP Singh and Navdeep Singh Tomar as Sanju Yadav have their moments to shine. Dipesh Rohilla as Karim, Gaurav Kothari as Sunil and Musassar Ali as Jamal are first rate. Abhilash Thapliyal as Antariksh is splendid and he subtly contributes to the humour of the show in the most effortless manner while staying true to the unassuming tone of the drama. Shruti Jolly as Vidushi has a good screen presence and she does a swell job here. Sanjay Shiv Narayan as Bho and Manjiri Pupala as Bhi are such interesting characters with eccentric traits and both of them are super impressive with their antics, wacky humour and their body language.
Chandan Roy as Vikas does a superb job in a character caught between the cross fire between two strong parties. The sincerity that he brought to the table was commendable. Kubbra Sait as Pallavi Raj is wonderfully restrained as a character fighting her inner demons while being the target of her patriarchal superior. The amount of conviction that he brings to the table is amazing while expressing beautifully through her eyes. This was indeed a powerful act by a very talented performer. Kashyap Harsha Shangari as Jayendra is unassuming and just superb in his act. There is a layer of mystery surrounding his character and he puts up a stellar act to perfection here.
Manurishi Chadha as Rajbir is excellent to the core. There are so many layers to his character who keeps shifting loyalties throughout the show. And there is also an inherent power streak to his character and he brings it to the fore with a tinge of humour in a towering and thoroughly enjoyable performance. Chandan Roy Sanyal as Kairav has a sinister presence and there is a certain sense of madness to his character that he brings forth in a rather balanced manner, often with a level of calmness and a tinge of humour. And this wasn’t easy by any means as it required a performer with a lot of control in his craft. He was phenomenal to watch onscreen.
Shruthy Menon as Sandhya was my favourite character that was more than what met the eye. There are plenty of layers to her character and she pulled off all the beats with aplomb. There was a certain sense of authority and unpredictability that she brought to the table in what was a supremely stellar act. I was the happiest for Priyanshu Painyuli who is absolutely brilliant as Dev(don’t miss the NH-10 homage showcased as a sticker on his bike). This was a challenging role wherein the viewers discover the world of Lakhot through his gaze and therefore he needed to hit all the right notes, while keeping you engaged through his act. And he does take you on a roller coaster of emotions while you silently begin to root for him until the very end. This was a towering performance of the highest order by a performer who is slowly but surely getting his due with such meaty roles. The hard work is finally paying off!
Shehar Lakhot is an intriguing neo-noir drama with sparkling performances that might be a slow-burn but makes for a wonderful watch if you are willing to give it a chance. Available on Amazon Prime.