‘The Great Indian Murder’ Review: The series demands patience and isn’t meant for casual viewing

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Murtaza Ali Khan

The new Disney+ Hotstar series ‘The Great Indian Murder’ is essentially a whodunit. According to Wikipedia, a whodunit is a complex, plot-driven variety of a detective story in which the puzzle regarding who committed the crime is the main focus. The viewer is provided with the clues from which the identity of the perpetrator may be deduced before the story provides the revelation itself at its climax. Also, the investigation is usually conducted by an eccentric, amateur, or semi-professional detective. Now, ‘The Great Indian Murder’ is based Vikas Swarup’s 2016 novel titled ‘Six Suspects. It follows the murder investigation of Vicky Rai (portrayed Jatin Goswami), the playboy son of a powerful politician named Jagganath Rai (essayed by Ashutosh Rana), hailing from the Indian state of Chhattisgarh. The nine episode series is about several versions of the murder as the investigating officers, Sudha Bhardwaj (played by Richa Chadha) and Suraj Yadav (portrayed by Pratik Gandhi), come across during their investigation while interrogating the different suspects.

Directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia, ‘The Great Indian Murder’ is loosely based on Swarup’s novel. In the novel, Vicky Rai is the playboy son of the Home Minister of Uttar Pradesh who murders a female bartender at a high-end restaurant in New Delhi, simply because she refused to serve him a drink. Now, this is very similar to the Jessica Lal murder case and so it is totally changed in the series wherein Rai is under trail for the rape and murder of two underage girls at his Delhi farmhouse. Several other changes have been done to the novel’s plot for various reasons. But what remains intact is Swarup’s sprawling narrative that constantly shifting across various subplots and character arcs. The Disney+ Hotstar series does succeed in capturing the pulse of Swarup’s novel, at least for the most part. For the uninitiated, Swarup's debut novel ‘Q&A’ was adapted into the Oscar-winning film ‘Slumdog Millionaire,’ back in 2008.

‘Slumdog Millionaire’ was noted for its nonlinear structure and dynamic narrative that was spread across different timelines. ‘The Great Indian Murder’ strives for something similar but unlike ‘Slumdog Millionaire,’ the challenge here is to sustain it for nine long episodes of roughly 40 minutes each. This results in a rather lopsided set of episodes. While some episodes are pacy and allow the narrative to flow seamlessly, others tend to be too expository in nature. This is not the kind of series that’s ideal for binge-watching. A series like this must to be watched in parts because so much is happening with the characters trapped in different timelines. We are talking about roughly six hours of intense albeit unevenly paced storytelling that’s full of all kinds of detail and exposition with an undercurrent of socio-political commentary.

‘The Great Indian Murder’ is replete with a panoply of characters, ranging from venal cops to vengeful actresses to transgressing journalists to corrupt politicians to heroic activists to playboy pimps to honorable thugs to undignified businessmen to cunning godmen. Now, some of these characters work well while others fall flat. The trouble lies with some inconsistent work in the adaptation department. With such a complex material at hand, it is never easy to get everything spot on. The characters that work really well are Ashutosh Rana’s power hungry politician Jagganath Rai, Jatin Goswamy’s playboy son Vicky Rai, Shashank Arora’s mobile-phone thief Munna, and Paoli Dam’s tinseltown diva Shabnam Saxena. The characters that work reasonably well include the cop characters essayed by Richa Chadha and Pratik Gandhi, Amey Wagh’s blogger character Arun Deshmukh, Deepraj Rana’s henchman Prithvi, and Kenneth Desai’s CM Shashikant Vohra. And, the characters that completely fall flat include Rucha Inamdar’s Ritu Rai (Vicky’s step sister), Ronjini Chakraborty’s activist Champi, Raghuvir Yadav’s Mohan Kumar, and Mani’s tribal character Eketi.

‘The Great Indian Murder’ is one of those series that isn’t meant for casual viewing. This one really tests the viewer’s patience until the very end and unless he/she is totally invested in watching it, the series can turn out to be a totally futile exercise. But what really work in series’ favor are some brilliant performances on offer. Ashutosh Rana is riveting to watch in the role of Jagganath Rai who absolutely adores his playboy son but his lust for power overshadows everything else. Rana has really been enjoying a purple patch and is delivering one memorable performance after another. The effortless manner in which he plays a complex character like Jaggannath Rai truly reflects his class as a performer belonging to the highest echelons. Jatin Goswamy looks menacing as Vicky Rai and though the character doesn’t have many layers, Goswamy’s brilliant performance (he was equally brilliant in Babumoshai Bandookbaaz) makes the character come alive. As for Shashank Arora, he really seems to have come a long way from his ‘Titli’ days, continuing to offer something new with each new performance. More was expected from Pratik Gandhi after ‘Scam 1992’. While Richa Chadha is solid as ever, Paoli Dam proves to be the real surprise package of the series.

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

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