Review of Sultan of Delhi: After the division, director Milan Lutheria’s OTT debut set in Mumbai begins with strange subplots and a hint of conspiracy. While the producers are expanding their traditional narrative into the web series format, their audience’s patience has been tested to the limits.
The tired clichés, unnecessary skin show, and attraction to gangsters have become so predictable that one can guess where it’s going before the mystery unfolds. For Milan Luthria, the man who gave us Once Upon a Time in Mumbai a decade ago, expectations from Delhi’s Sultan were much higher, based on Arnab Ray’s 2016 book of the same name. Unfortunately, it all gets lost in a lacklustre mess. Even Tahir Raj Bhasin cannot save the poor storytelling and lack of substance.
Setting: Delhi’s Sultan, directed by Milan Luthria and Suparn S Varma (whose Trial was a different kind of disappointment), begins with promises and sacrifices. We are introduced to Arjun (Ricky Patel), who becomes a witness to his family’s gruesome massacre during the partition. He manages to spend the night with his father (Bijay Anand) and successfully reaches Delhi. From there, it’s a new beginning for him.
No Questions Asked: The refugee camps are death sentences, not telling us how Arjun had to learn the ropes of surviving in this world. A decade suddenly passes, and we are abruptly introduced to Arjun, who is now an auto mechanic. Tahir Raj Bhasin comes with his mild body language and clean hairstyle. Soon, he is working under Jagan Seth (Vinay Pathak) and establishing himself as a powerful leader. Ask why, and you’ll find a comical arms-dealing business involving the police in numerous unnecessary murders. Ask again, and you’ll get no answer. It’s better to leave the questions out, as the answers come with the episodes.
In this show, all we get is a Bollywood nightclub cabaret dance sequence in Kolkata, and after a few scenes, it ends with a humorous bank heist. Another bizarre sequence comes when Arjun has to strip naked before a gangster to prove his loyalty. In between, the show has a sharp understanding of its time and politics – adopting the worst clichés to advance its narrative. Such is the case with producer Roy Babu, whose activism lies in settling the scores of bank robbers he encourages to revolt!
Tahir Raj Bhasin has very little to work with, as he is not given any room to develop his character amid this kind of melodramatic difficulty. Each character acts exactly as if the audience believes them without depth or nuance. There is no investment in these settings, no firm commitment to keeping them alive for an extended period. At the end of the 9 episodes, the interest dwindles. It’s a disappointing transformation that can barely save itself from its clichés.
Delhi’s Sultan is available for streaming on Disney+ Hotstar from October 13.