‘Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein’ Review: Tahir Raj Bhasin and Anchal Singh shine in the Netflix show

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Murtaza Ali Khan

With his seminal work Satya, Ram Gopal Varma introduced an interesting new variation of film noir which has come to be known as Mumbai noir. Over the next decade or so, Mumbai noir as well as many of films noir’s other indigenous variations prospered in the hands of Anurag Kashyap along with the likes of Tigmanshu Dhulia, Vishal Bhardwaj, Sriram Raghavan, and Navdeep Singh. In the recent years ever since the advent of web in India we are witnessing more and more content that falls under the wide canvas of noir. The new Netflix series ‘Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein,’ starring Tahir Raj Bhasin, Shweta Tripathi Sharma, Anchal Singh, Brijendra Kala, Shashie Verma, Anant Joshi, Surya Sharma, and Saurabh Shukla, is the latest in the series of films / shows trying to capitalize on the well known tropes of the genre to tell a pulpy story set in the Hindi heartland. ‘Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein’ is created and directed by Sidharth Sengupta who is a veteran with over two and a half decades of experience in Indian television with shows like ‘Balika Vadhu’ to his credit. As far as the web is concerned, he previously created and directed the shows ‘Undekhi’ and ‘Apharan’.    

But, what is film noir? Wikipedia describes film noir as a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, from the early 1940s to the late 1950s, particularly those that emphasize cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. Typically, the hero here is morally ambiguous. Then there are stock character types like the private eye (a private detective or inquiry agent) and the femme fatale (a seductive and mysterious woman who ensnares her lovers, often leading them into deadly traps). There is a great likelihood that we would also come across gangsters and their henchmen, prying bystanders, cheating husbands, coquettish wives, and duplicitous cops. As mentioned earlier, film noir has given rise to countless offshoots. However, the basic construct of the genre despite the variations that have evolved over the years remains pretty much the same. In this regard, ‘Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein’ is not much different. The show basically tells the story of a small-town man named Vikrant who is aggressively pursued by a politician's daughter named Purva who will do anything to marry him. Vikrant, however, is deeply in love with a girl named Shikha, but when he realizes that the obsessive Purva will not leave any stone unturned to possess him, he is forced to take drastic measures to reclaim his life.

One of the greatest hallmarks of noir when done well is the unrelenting mood that stylistically oozes out of each and every frame. As far as the Indian cinema is concerned, two filmmakers, over the last decade and a half, have demonstrated a singular command over the genre: Navdeep Singh and Sriram Raghavan. While Singh’s masterful 2007 neo-noir film ‘Manorama Six Feet Under’ is loosely based on Roman Polanski’s 1974 Hollywood classic ‘Chinatown,’ it is actually good enough to stand on its own. His other two films ‘NH10’ and ‘Laal Kaptaan’ too offer interesting shades of noir. As for Raghavan, his films ‘Ek Hasina Thi,’ ‘Johnny Gaddaar,’ ‘Badlapur,’ and ‘Andhadhun’ feature amongst the best neo-noir films made in the country. Filmmakers such as Ram Gopal Varma, Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, Thiagarajan Kumararaja, Vetrimaran, Vishal Bhardwaj, and Rajat Kapoor too have tasted some success with noir. The thing with the genre is that if the mood doesn’t seep into your pores the way it does in, say, ‘Manorama Six Feet Under’ or ‘Johnny Gaddaar,’ it can really fall flat. And that’s the challenge that Sidharth Sengupta and his team had to begin with. So, did they fail or succeed?

Well, the thing with ‘Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein’ is that it takes a lot of time to get going. But once things start rolling after the first few episodes, the show really come into its own. One suddenly starts catching the mood out of the corner of one’s eye without it being thrust at one. The second half of the show is really what makes it tick. The segment set in Ladakh is absolutely breathtaking to watch. Arunoday Singh’s nameless contract killer is perhaps the best thing about the show other than Anchal Singh’s proverbial femme fatale Purva, of course, who just can’t take no for an answer. Tahir Raj Bhasin’s laconic but strong-willed Vikrant comes across as a work in progress for most of the series before finally breaking free off the shackles. Full credit to Bhasin for playing such a complex character with utmost conviction to follow up his memorable turn of a troubled filmmaker modeled on Mahesh Bhatt in ‘Ranjish Hi Sahi’.  Also, Shweta Tripathi Sharma, Brijendra Kala, Shashie Verma, Anant Joshi, and Surya Sharma are brilliant in their respective roles. Ajitabh Sen Gupta succeeds in delivering the chills in a short but memorable role of a henchman. Varun Badola’s dialogues add just the right punch.

Despite its slow setup, ‘Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein’ is compelling to watch for the most part. But the manner in which it ends is a little disappointing. It certainly adds value to viewing if the season ends up delivering a closure of sorts. For some reason Indian content creators are just not willing enough to end a show on a proper note. In the West they invariably close a season first before going for the cliffhanger but in India the storytellers skip the closure and directly go for the cliffhanger.  

A version of this review was first published at The Daily Guardian.

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