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Kaala Paani Review: Slow-Paced 'Thriller'

October 19, 2023 09:37 IST
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The earnestness of the actors keep Kaala Paani from drowning, observes Deepa Gahlot.

Kaala Paani makes all the right au courant noises, particularly significant after the COVID pandemic.

Set in 2027 in the beautiful Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the Web series is about corporate greed, the protection of indigenous tribes and life forms, the possible negative impact of uncontrolled tourism and, of course, while the trauma is still fresh in the minds of viewers, a killer epidemic, unleashed by an unknown bacteria.

Then, instead of a race-against-time survival thriller, Directors Sameer Saxena and Amit Golani meander over seven episodes, introducing too many characters, who are then given detailed backstories and flashbacks into the distant past, while the main plot simmers on the back burner.


The island is about to host a large Swaraj Mahotsav, a tourist trap event that will bring in much-needed revenue.

The sponsor of the event, a company called Atom, and its head Wani (Rajesh Khattar) is not pleased when Dr Soudamini Singh (Mona Singh) sounds the alarm about a highly contagious disease spotted in a dozen patients at her hospital.

Lieutenant General Qadri (Ashutosh Gowariker) and the local cop Ketan Kamat (Amey Wagh) in Port Blair on a punishment posting, pressurise Dr Singh into okaying the festival, and soon, disaster strikes.

The characters caught up in the chaos are Chiru, a tourist guide and hustler (Sukant Goel) and his family, the Savla family of father (Vikas Kumar), mother (Sarika Singh) and their two kids, who have arrived for a holiday, Jyotsna (Arushi Sharma) a nurse, Ritu Gagra (Radhika Mehrotra) a researcher, her immediate superior Dr Mahajan (Chinmay Mandlekar), Swasti (Poornima Indrajith), wife of the absent Atom honcho, and just too many others, who do nothing but defuse the little tension that the show (written by Biswapati Sarkar and Golani), builds up through the little human tragedies woven into the story.

The most moving is the Savla couple being separated from their kids by the glib Chiru, who wants to nudge them to a particular beach, where he has to deliver stolen turtle eggs. (This bit of the plot is left dangling, it is never clear who buys those contraband eggs and for what purpose).

The water pipeline from Jenkins Island to Port Blair is quickly identified as the carrier of contaminated water that caused the epidemic, which, somehow, spares the indigenous Oraka tribe. Even Qadri, who is portrayed as a fair and thoughtful man, is not averse to endangering them 'for the greater good' which as big a socio-political myth as any.

With thousands of tourists trapped on the island, plus the locals, water supply and communications cut, a horrible disease on the rampage, there would be riots and bedlam in the streets but the show wastes time over Savla falling into a ditch and trying to get out.

It is said that the mainland -- India -- is not helping, but there seems to be no shortage of provisions.

With a severe curtailment of water, no character looks bedraggled, there are always in fresh, ironed clothes. Why is there no attempt shown to exchange information with other experts worldwide and find a solution to the epidemic that is going out of control?

In the midst of the emergency playing out in Port Blair, Jyotsna rescues the stranded Savla kids, and takes them to a forest bunker occupied by an old man (Veerendra Saxena), who, without stepping out, has plenty of food and medicines.

The Orakas and their lifestyle, briefly captured, are depicted realistically, though only one woman is seen in the tribe. Was it because the parts were tough to cast?

Kaala Paani has a lot going for it -- the scenic locations, the cast, and a problem of modern-day apathy towards the environment, that is putting all of humanity on a power keg waiting to explode -- but it goes all over the place and is not able to focus on the impending catastrophe that should have caused a knot-in-the-stomach sense of fear in the viewer, knowing that such a situation is very much within the realm of possibility.

In the end, it is the earnestness of the actors -- Sukant Goel, Vikas Kumar, Ashutosh Gowariker and Amey Wagh as the court jester of sorts -- who keep Kaala Paani from drowning.

But the indicated second season will have to work harder to gather up the various scattered strands in a more meaningful way.

Kaala Paani streams on Netflix.

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