From Inside Edge and Sacred Games to the upcoming Mirzapur, crime seems to be the genre of choice for Indian web series. The latest title to emerge is Smoke which is currently available on video on demand platform Eros Now. The show has been directed by Neel Guha and stars Tom Alter, Jim Sarbh, Mandira Bedi, Kalki Koechlin, Gulshan Devaiah and Neil Bhoopalam.
Set in Goa, the story pivots around the activities of Russian drug lord Moshe Barak (Tom Alter). A double murder of two of his associates by an opposing gang sets off a bloody turf war prompting Barak to consider striking a deal with the rival Duman cartel. However, he must also contend with enemies from Kashmir, Sri Lanka and Nigeria as well as some of his own disillusioned associates, all of whom are looking to stake their claim in the state’s drug trade. Adding to his woes is a police force determined to bring him down, driven by a chief minister (Girish Kulkarni) on a mission to make Goa drug-free.
That the series is called ‘Smoke’ turns out to be appropriate for all the wrong reasons. The show lacks substance, something which its star cast alone cannot salvage.
There’s the gore and violence you’d expect from a show with a similar premise but the poor pacing ruins much of its intended impact. The plot appears to suffer from the effects of the Goan concept of susegad—instead of offering the sharp twists and turns of a thriller, it meanders languidly, which dampens the effects of its revelations.
The characters are similarly half-baked and lack direction. Alter (who passed away shortly after the series was filmed) fails to convince us of his character’s reputation as a notorious drug mafia kingpin.
Kalki Koechlin as Tara, a DJ and Barak’s mistress, exists on the periphery of the plot as does her ‘Shaitan’ co-star Neil Bhoopalam, who plays the mute Savio. Both are severely underutilised.
Satyadeep Mishra is committed to the role of the no nonsense ACP Pereira, but his character leaves you with a vague sense of déjà vu a few episodes in.
Jim Sarbh, who plays Barak’s righthand man Roy, breathes some much-needed life into the show. As a shrewd khabri with a conscience, he offers subtle comic relief and gives you a reason to continue watching when the rest of the plot fails to do so.
Another highlight is the relationship between JJ—Gulshan Devaiah, who brings a veneer of naïve humour to his role as a cold mercenary—and his partner-in-crime Pushkar (Amit Saial), the volatile son of Barak’s gangster associate Bhau.
Over its 11 hour-long episodes, Smoke never manages to achieve any concrete form. It also lacks soul, keeping the emotional stakes for a viewer low. All the action, it turns out, is crammed into a 90-minute finale. There are a couple of plot twists that do take you by surprise but the reasons to stick around to find out what they are, are few.