“There are three things that can corrupt you - money, power and women,” says the show Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein as it begins, and from the get-go everything screams pulp, from the name (and the throwback desi pulp font in which it’s written), symbolising both the deep, dark Orwellian eyes of Big Brother and also, simultaneously, the deep dark ocean that are the eyes of a woman possessed with undying love and obsession for a man.
The characters, dialogues, setting everything is thrilling, delicious, and as pulpy as a ripe rotting mango in the Delhi summer heat.
Watching the show feels like I am standing at a railway station in India, facing a sweet-faced, large-eyed bookseller who sells cheaply printed copies of books with bright neon covers, confident lettering, and words like khooni and pyaasi in their titles. It was love at first sight for me.
Complete with musical montages, filmy sequences as homages to a genre that’s making a mainstream space, romancing by the riverside, dangerous liaisons with sun-kissed faces and kohl-lined eyes, guns and roses galore, this show has it all and way more.
Pulp is truly my kind of fiction (shoutout to Tarantino who would be, I am sure, delighted to watch this). A hinterland setting, characters we know so well by now, the violence we could yawn at but, it is all made even more exciting, more inviting, more lived-in than before.
The show feels in parts like a dirty poem a vulgar comedian tells on stage, where he tells a rhyme and the words he uses are block and prissy but we all laugh because we know what he wanted to say and he didn’t have to but we thought it anyway. It’s genius. A toxic tale of cat and mouse, a love (lust) story that resembles a game of chess. This is where Haseen Dillruba had, perhaps, wanted to land.
The story is far from simple and takes such insane, deep winding turns and remains consistent in delivering shocker after shocker that the show makes a rhythm so musical that you can almost hear the beats. You think you’re going to go right and then the car swerves left and it catches you by surprise every single time even though you’ve been the victim of the same accident many times by now.
It is thrilling. Some scenes are impossibly difficult to watch. Sex, violence, comedy, and then some heartbreak, jealousy, and nothing but heightened emotions, there is not a moment of respite in all its 8 episodes. I sat at the edge of my seat for 8 hours and did not notice where the time went. It made me yearn for a delicious pulp novel (maybe one of those Tamil ones translated to Hindi or English) and to curl up in a corner with it with a hot cup of coffee (I welcome recommendations, thank you).
The story goes something like this. A hard-working, middle-class boy Vikrant from a small town is a smallish fish in a smaller pond and wants to be a small fish in another pond until his dreams are dashed when the most powerful, ruthless and despicable man of the towns daughter falls in love with him. (Note to self: children who are not taught that no means no and they can’t have everything really do become demonic monsters. I love it)
Did I mention this ruthless father is also the boss of Vikrant’s father? And with this dynamic begins a blood-soaked love triangle that could put most gang wars to shame, fought both in the bedroom and in the outdoor of back and beyond of India.
The characters are pitch-perfect as are the performances. There are scenes in which Vikrant (Tahir Raj Bhasin), his father (Brijendra Kala), mother, and sister play a game of verbal back and forth that is not only written with such comic genius but also performed with palpable chemistry and energy. They are a circus I would buy a ticket to each time.
Besides, when does Brijendra Kala ever let us down? Not to forget Saurabh Shukla as the evil politician/businessman, a hat he always wears with such ease and as always he shines. The belle of the ball, the apple of my eye, is Anchal Singh as Purva, the daughter of said ruthless man and the breeze behind all the destruction.
Purva is now my favourite femme fatale (with daddy issues of course) the warmth, desire, mystery, and danger which this character carries all at once is both endearing and confusing. She always leaves you begging for more.
She reminds me of what could have been the inspiration for Christian Dior’s 1985 classic Poison or Gucci’s Guilty Absolute Pour Femme - she, dark midnight rose, ripe and almost rotting, deep in the forest, surrounded by the cold midnight wetness of the outdoors, gothic secrets, the smell of sweet musk and wood in my nose. She is divine.
The appeal lies in the seduction, temptation, resistance, desire, and greed. The writing milks the story, the characters, the universe bone dry leaving you feeling full and satisfied. The acting, direction, editing, set design all make for perfect puzzle pieces here too, and the icing on the cake? The season ends on a cliffhanger that will make you tear your hair out. I need to know what happens next and I need to know now.
There are though, a few loopholes in the story, some unanswered questions that are fairly important to the plot but there’s so much going on, and so much to chew on, that the flaws are easily covered and might not even be visible with a magnifying glass.
Siddharth Sengupta, along with a long list of other creators, has hit it out of the park with this genre-bending romance comedy pulpy thriller. With not a dull moment, plenty of gore, guts, steam, sex, and pain, this is an exhausting marathon, a mammoth effort that needs to be savoured. I would un-watch this just to be able to enjoy it for the first time again.