Sometimes, looking back is the key to understanding why things happen. Paatal Lok strongly implies that in its sixth episode as a true sense of just what the four accused are can only be gleaned by looking behind. Their origins could provide far more insight into their motives than the media hysteria surrounding their ISI links could. At least Hathi Ram and Imran are convinced that this is the way forward and begin digging deeper into the story’s true prologue to learn where it’s headed.
With their differences ironed out, Jaideep Ahlawat’s Hathi Ram and Ishwak Singh’s Imran Ansari almost make for a buddy cop pair. They have their own strengths: Hathi’s fearlessness and Imran’s intellect make them a formidable pair as they conduct their independent investigation. The case has become something more than just a routine case for them and as Hathi Ram suggests, they chose the wrong person to hand the case if the intention was to simply let it slide.
Looking back at more of Cheeni and Kabir’s origins is far more traumatic and disturbing than I imagined it would be. For Kabir, his father and brother were the victim of religious Hindu mob-violence. I’m unsure how general audiences will take to this plot point, seeing how prevalent it is in today’s times but the Hindu-Muslim conflict is something that shows have begun exploring more bravely. Netflix’s Sacred Games is literally about how religion is twisted for one’s own gains and this episode of Paatal Lok evokes the strongest comparison with the Netflix series by far.
Even more shaking is watching Cheeni being raped as a child by molestors. You can almost feel yourself squirm in disgust by watching that scene and even though nothing is explicitly depicted, such is the writing that your heart goes out for the child. It almost makes you question your own life and its privileges and makes you thankful for a life that’s not half as cold or brutal as what these kids have had to endure. The director duo Avinash Arun and Prosit Roy’s emphasis on keeping things raw, real and grounded only strengthens the impact that sequence has.
But writers Hardik Mehta and Gunjit Chopra aren’t solely heartless. For that, one needs to look at the series of events involving Hathi Ram’s son and how he’s embroiled in the snatching of a gun. The prompt manner in which Hathi Ram comes to his son’s rescue and just thrashes the goons gives you a rousing sense of hope that can only be invoked by the kind of show that manages to invest you in its characters heavily. I found myself rooting for Hathi Ram in that moment and realized that I’m now emotionally invested in these characters in a way that’s really hard to achieve.
It’s become increasingly clear that a bigger game is being played. If I had one complaint about the show, its that as promising the larger mystery is, it can tend to get a tad too convoluted at times. With so many bit players involved and the Central Bureau of Investigation spinning a whole new ISI terrorist narrative and Sanjeev Mehra using that to boost his channel’s ratings, it can get a bit muddled to follow the real thread. I suppose that’s the point and the complexity is part of the narrative twist. It’s nitpicking really but I’m sure it’ll all fit together nicely in the end. That is, assuming the end doesn’t turn out to be anticlimatic.
A running theme I felt the women shared is their exasperation for the men in their life and the constant lying they’re subject do. Dolly is tired of her husband lying about her affair and begins questioning whether she’s physically good enough to appease him, before she takes matters into her own hands. Renu is tired of her husband treating her like second-hand garbage and again, hands it back to him in a fit of rage. And Sara is tired of Sanjeev swindling the same old narrative to bolster his channel’s reputation without concern about the real threat he’s facing, leading her to approach and team up with Hathi Ram and Imran for the ensuing investigation.
Overall, Paatal Lok is really going strong now and if the final three episodes can seal it all together, it would go down in my eyes as a powerful series premiere. There’s quite a lot happening in the space of an episode and I didn’t even go in-depth about Swastika Mukherjee’s Dolly’s intense longing for her estranged husband or the slap handed back by Gul Panag’s Renu’s to her own husband (and a real one too). But the focus going ahead should squarely be on the core mystery and bringing all the pieces together. Looking at their penchant for darkness though, I can’t see how it could all end on a positive note.