ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD
i

‘Kaala Paani’ Review: This Survival Drama Perfects the Language of Grief

'Kaala Paani' stars Mona Singh, Arushi Sharma, Sarika Singh, Sukant Goel, among others.

Updated
Movie Reviews
5 min read
Aa
Aa
Small
Aa
Medium
Aa
Large

‘Kaala Paani’ Review: This Survival Drama Perfects the Language of Grief

There is a website that asks you increasingly absurd questions related to the trolley problem, a moral and ethical dilemma introduced by philosopher Philippa Foot. The questions also test whether you’d change your answer if the circumstances change, if the sacrifice becomes more personal, more greed-driven, among other things. Netflix’s latest Kaala Paani is a much darker exploration of similar themes. 

'Kaala Paani' stars Mona Singh, Arushi Sharma, Sarika Singh, Sukant Goel, among others.

Mona Singh in a still from Kaala Paani.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

The year is 2027 and Chief Medical Officer Dr Soudamini Singh (Mona Singh) warns everyone of an impending danger, a mystery disease rearing its head in the serene landscape of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. While Dr Singh tries desperately to gather information about the elusive disease, other authorities are focused on the upcoming ‘Swaraj Mahotsav’ – a festival that is supposed to bring an influx of tourists to the island. 

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

As the bacterial outbreak (named ‘LHF-27’) spreads across the island, several storylines emerge. One of Ketan (a wonderful Amey Wagh), a shady IPS officer driven purely by his need to return to the ‘mainland’. He is the film’s anti-moral compass in a way; his motivations are, more often than not, motivated by personal gain. But he is not the only one. 

'Kaala Paani' stars Mona Singh, Arushi Sharma, Sarika Singh, Sukant Goel, among others.

Amey Wagh in a still from Kaala Paani.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Kaala Paani uses the tension of a population pushed to the brink in survival mode to expose the cracks in an otherwise civil human society. For a world still reeling from the COVID pandemic, this show acts both as a gloomy refresher of how human nature can evolve both for the better and the worse when faced with danger.

The show explores how aid and empathy are unfairly distributed, often benefiting the rich and privileged before anyone else. 
'Kaala Paani' stars Mona Singh, Arushi Sharma, Sarika Singh, Sukant Goel, among others.

Vikas Kumar in a still from Kaala Paani.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

There is also a tour guide Chiru (the show’s highlight, Sukant Goel) who can’t quite understand why his entire family stands by the Oraka tribe (a fictional addition to the tale) and also becomes the guide for an innocent family on vacation. His and Ketan’s stories are some of the show’s most engaging when it comes to the questions it aims to posit. 

0

When it comes to emotional turmoil however, the ‘innocent family’ in question takes center stage. Santosh Salva (Vikas Kumar) and his wife Gargi (Sarika Singh) form the beating heart of Kaala Paani. Their fight to survive and be reunited with their two kids often tugs at your heartstrings (while I have always disliked this phrase, there is no better way to describe their impact).

Kumar and Singh are some of the show’s best offerings, especially because of how believable they are as the kind hearted father struggling to bridge the gap with his son and the wife who acts as an unflinching anchor.

'Kaala Paani' stars Mona Singh, Arushi Sharma, Sarika Singh, Sukant Goel, among others.

Sarika Singh and Vikas Kumar in a still from Kaala Paani.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

A show like this is going to rely on the efforts of healthcare professionals (as it should). In that space, we have Jyotsna Dey (Arushi Sharma), a former nurse who carries a guilt that she is forced to reconcile with and medical intern Ritu Gagra (Radhika Mehrotra) who soon becomes a reluctant leader. 

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

Through these stories and several other narrative threads, Kaala Paani expertly explores several pressing themes in the setting that they’ve created – how deep-rooted casteism is in society, how the powerful view others as dispensable, and how administrative corruption often has widespread effects. 

'Kaala Paani' stars Mona Singh, Arushi Sharma, Sarika Singh, Sukant Goel, among others.

A still from Kaala Paani.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

One of the show’s best features (kudos to director Sameer Saxena and writer Biswapati Sarkar) is the way the screenplay deals with the Oraka tribe and their relationship to nature and the people around them. Much like Avatar: The Way of Water, Kaala Paani introduces ‘Tinnotu’, an innate ability the tribe possesses to be so in tune with their surroundings that they’d notice even the slightest signs of change. 

With this, the show makes an argument for ecology and environmental activism and for the rights of the Oraka people who are indigenous to the islands. Despite the fact that the Orakas are being viewed from an outsider’s lens, the story treats them with sensitivity. There is a clear, sinister power dynamic between them and the other residents of the island and Kaala Paani doesn’t shy away from the statement. 

'Kaala Paani' stars Mona Singh, Arushi Sharma, Sarika Singh, Sukant Goel, among others.

A still from Kaala Paani.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

While trying to give all characters a space in the narrative, shows and films risk becoming tiresome and that is something that does plague this show as well. While every character gets their due and has enough going on for them to create an engaging show, there are often moments that feel dragged out. 

'Kaala Paani' stars Mona Singh, Arushi Sharma, Sarika Singh, Sukant Goel, among others.

A still from Kaala Paani.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

In the seven-episode run, each spanning over 50 minutes, the show would’ve benefitted from a tighter edit. The show is, however, saved by the engrossing cinematography – the islands are painted in almost mystical hue, making this a story more fitting in folklore than the distressing reality in which it is rooted. 

The mysticism surrounding the setting adds a sheen to the entire endeavor that is brilliantly contrasted with the edge the later episodes revel in. 

'Kaala Paani' stars Mona Singh, Arushi Sharma, Sarika Singh, Sukant Goel, among others.

A still from Kaala Paani.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Admittedly, I am still asking for more Mona Singh, across shows, across formats, and even here because in the screen time she does get, she leaves a mark. Every member of the cast exceeds expectations, tying together a show that does seem like an ambitious feat, both in scale and substance.  

Kaala Paani could allude to a lot – to the name the Cellular Jail often goes by, to the murky waters that surround the islands, and even to the way seemingly dangerous water becomes a leitmotif in the film. In these multiple allusions, characters are often rushing in and out of frame – there is no single protagonist, only the stench of grief looming large. 

It is in this language of grief that Kaala Paani finds its rightful pulse. 

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read Latest News and Breaking News at The Quint, browse for more from entertainment and movie-reviews

Topics:  Netflix   Ashutosh Gowariker   Mona Singh 

Published: 
Speaking truth to power requires allies like you.
Become a Member
3 months
12 months
12 months
Check Member Benefits
Read More
×
×