Kaala Paani Review: Unusually for an Indian series, this show doesn’t shy away from depicting the high stakes of the story. The storytellers are resolute in their intentions as they delve into the narrative.
Kaala Paani, due to its intricate parts, has fallen apart, where characters are forced into inclusion solely because the narrative demands it.
Set against the backdrop of a somewhat futuristic (2027) survival drama on the Andaman Islands, ‘Kaala Paani,’ the first episode runs for over an hour. It aptly encompasses various facets of the news that come at us rapidly: a deadly disease threatening the residents and a jungle fire spreading like a threat amid a large gathering of tourists, administration scrambling, a very wealthy yet unscrupulous corporation, a medical team fiercely battling formidable obstacles to keep death at bay, and dark jungles where the original islanders have carved out an uncertain space for themselves.
The entire region is enveloped in stunning shades of blue sea, which is both a blessing and a curse. It was called ‘Kaala Paani‘ because escaping from the cellular jail of Port Blair was impossible: will these delirious, desperate people be able to escape in time?
Produced by Sameer Saxena, written by Biswapati Sarkar, and directed by Saxena and Amit Golani, the series opens with some things up front: first, that ‘Kaala Paani’ has the audacity of its very ambitious commitments, taking time to prepare for its larger themes despite starting slowly. It’s necessary for a story like this, in which human survival is just a step away from destruction. When you devastate nature and greedily exploit its natural resources, you are demanding its wrath, and ‘Kaala Paani,’ unusually for an Indian series, doesn’t flinch from showing how high the stakes are.
The body count starts to rise early on. There’s no beating around the bush, just a life snuffed out. It shocks you, but it also tells you that the storytellers are serious about their intentions, and there will be no pretence, only pursuit.
The desire of some of its most empathetic characters to sacrifice themselves is evident throughout the series, though I’m going to debate about bending a primary character so quickly, which encourages you to want to know more about what’s complex in the past. However, the blend of known and unknown faces playing somewhat complex characters keeps our interest high: Mona Singh as a stubborn public-spirited doctor, who seems to know how devastating the upcoming epidemic could be, Ashutosh Gokhale, beautifully set against the astonishingly beautiful islands, makes you want to see more of him as a clear LG.
Sukant Goyal is a local taxi driver who loves his land despite exploiting it, Amey Wagh is an arrogant police officer with a single-minded determination to take care of himself, and Vikas Singh is a trapped tourist who learns the Darwinian rules of survival in the cruellest way possible, Chinmay Mandlekar as a doctor who follows protocols, Radhika Mehrotra as a novice researcher with crucial knowledge, Veerendra Saxena as a mad old man with a critical key, Arushi Sharma as a nurse who returns to lost love. There are a few other characters that compel us to see more.
An attempt to go back and forth in time – the point where they had arrived on the Japanese island just when the Second World War was about to end, a confrontation with an ancient mystery known only to the original islanders – often stumbles, but I liked that the portrayal of the indigenous community is done with empathy and respect. It gives the extra series a sense of timelessness, where the past and present are presented in a continuity, where life and death are as spherical as a jail where one of India’s freedom fighters was held.
‘Kaala Paani’ has fallen apart due to its intricate parts, where characters are forced into conclusions solely because the narrative demands it. They traverse a series and repeat more in a way that has been carefully crafted to keep things credible. One of the most disturbing incidents is when a character from uncertainty is turned into a ‘fantasy’ – a word we hear several times. It instils complete faith in how a cure can be found, leading it in one direction.”