Plenty happens over the show -- riots, nefarious schemes, betrayal and multiple murders -- which should have made for a riveting watch but everything evokes déjà vu and worse, sighs Deepa Gahlot.
Had Shehar Lakhot been made at the start of the OTT boom, there might have been some incentive to watch it.
Now, after dozens of small town shenanigans involving gangsters, corrupt cops, venal politicians, a femme fatale, and a cocktail of murder, blackmail, drugs, foul language etc, the first reaction to Navdeep Singh's Web series is, 'Not another one!'
In a mostly Hollywood-inspired Noir (Polanski, Coen Brothers) universe, there is usually an innocent caught in the net of evil.
In this one, the man wandering around the waiting-to-explode landscape is not exactly a sympathetic character.
Black sheep Dev Tomar (Priyanshu Painyuli), working as a henchman with a Gurugram fixer (the name of the NCR location uttered with the admiration reserved for hill resorts!), reluctantly returns to his hometown of Lakhot, to sort some imbroglio with tribals and marble mines.
Dev has a history in Lakhot to do with a disastrous romance, jail time and banishment from the family home. So he is not exactly given a prodigal-returns welcome by his father (Gyan Prakash) and brother Jay (Kashyap Shangari) though the sister-in-law Vidushi (Shruti Jolly) seems happy to see him.
Lakhot, like many Indian towns, is small enough that everybody went to school with everybody else but is now bursting out of its seams with nouveau riche ambition and smothered by the dust of development.
The man around whom the action revolves is a Shakespeare-quoting Kairav Singh (Chandan Roy Sanyal), the illegitimate son of an aristocrat, aspiring to class.
The town's new found prosperity has come due to marble mines that Kairav opened up, which has him up against Kachdaar tribals, who hold the land sacred. Their sit-down protest is led by the Delhi-educated Vikas (Chandan Roy), who is seemingly incorruptible.
Dev has been sent to get the tribals out of mining land, so that the operations can resume but he hits many obstacles on the way, the biggest being the theft of his boss's fancy car.
Director Navdeep Singh and Co-Writer (with Devika Bhagat) get the ethos of the place right (two of Singh's earlier films, Manorama: Six Feet Under and NH10 belonged to a similar milieu) but the plot sorely lacks novelty.
The eight almost hour-long episodes do not have enough material to cover the vast tracts of slow-moving boredom.
With the body of a white woman and the corpse of a deer being discovered (the latter getting more importance than the former) buzzing in the background, there is the usual wheeling-dealing between Kairav, politicians and a smart aleck cop, Rajbir Singh Rangot (Manu Rishi Chadha), who plays whichever side suits him.
In contrast is earnest SI Pallavi Raj (Kubbra Sait), who is treated with rude disdain by her male colleagues but has the decency to feel sorry for the dead woman and investigate on her own time.
In the meantime, Dev wanders around hunting for his car, is accused of the murder of his brother, and deals with latent feelings for childhood sweetheart Sandhya (Shruthy Menon), who is now the moll by Kairav Singh's side.
The third significant female character is Kairav's murderous, bow-and-arrow wielding, madly grinning tribal hit woman, Bhi (Manjiri Pupala) who, along with her brother, Bho (Sanjay Shiv Narayan), kills and tortures with unholy glee.
Plenty happens over the show -- riots, nefarious schemes, betrayal and multiple murders -- which should have made for a riveting watch but everything evokes déjà vu and worse. They take their own time, like a clue introduced in one episode is almost forgotten, till it surfaces when it is not all relevant.
Priyanshu Painyuli is a decent enough actor but does not have the charisma or the variety of expressions to shoulder a show, which the main villain, Chandan Roy Sanyal does -- so it is an unequal contest.
Even if an actor is playing a gormless creature like Dev, he should be able to have the audience rooting for him, if they have to watch the show to the end.
Other actors like Chandan Roy, Manu Rishi Chadha and Kubbra Sait make the best of the scenes they get -- Chadha's Rajbir has the most pungent lines and Kubbra's Pallavi's quid pro quo dates with a journalist are the only tiny moments of humour in the otherwise unremittingly grim series.
If one may plead with Web series makers: Please clean up the dialogue, there is no shock value in profanity any more. Please drop the overused template of crime shows, and please stop the Daddys and Mummys from having heart attacks, unless they are crucial to advancing the plot!
Shehar Lakhot streams on Amazon Prime Video.