In a twist greater than anything you’re likely to see on the show itself, Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein is actually good. A kitsch throwback to both trashy pulp fiction and 90s Hindi cinema, the eight-episode Netflix series is exactly what Haseen Dillruba, in its most salacious dreams, wishes it was.
But while that Taapsee Pannu-starrer was marred by a scattershot screenplay, which itself was crippled by a superiority complex—it looked down on the genre it was supposed to pay a loving homage to—Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein is largely successful at balancing delectably dark humor with action-thriller elements. It’s a tall ask of any filmmaker to maintain tonal consistency across an entire season, especially if the genre keeps changing every two episodes, but director Sidharth Sengupta, for the most part, keeps the narrative on track even when the behavior of his characters threatens to derail it.
An excellent Tahir Raj Bhasin plays the hapless engineer Vikrant, who wants nothing more than to live the life that he has mapped out for himself. After getting an entry-level job at a steel plant, he’ll marry his sweetheart Shikha and perhaps get an MBA degree some years later. He’ll shoot the breeze with his childhood buddy, a buffoon nicknamed Golden, and most importantly, he’ll stay far away from the shady man his father has spent his entire life working for.
But as fate would have it, Vikrant is sucked into the seedy world of UP politics when he crosses paths with the infatuated daughter of a fearsome local ‘vidhayak’ named Akheraj, played by Saurabh Shukla in proper Ramadhir Singh mode. The woman, Purva, has spent the prime of her youth obsessing over Vikrant, whom she went to school with. She puts in an unsolicited good word for him when his father forces him to interview for a position in Akheraj’s posse of ‘gundas’.
Played by Anchal Singh, Purva is a real femme fatale, straight out of the Manohar Kahaniyan that the show has such a palpable fondness for. The moment he first laid eyes on her as a kid, Vikrant knew she meant trouble. This is perhaps as much as you should know about Purva and her plans; revealing the rest would be spoiling your experience.
And that’s only because Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein relies a tad too heavily on plot twists. But that is the nature of the beast; in fact, it is because of its love for pulp fiction that it is able to get away with so much. Stories such as this are supposed to feature archetypal characters who display a glaring lack of logical reasoning. And if stupidity were a crime, Vikrant would be serving a life sentence.
He’s a mostly passive character who, when he finally decides to take his life into his own hands, makes some of the most head-scratchingly confounding decisions this side of Aranyak. Vikrant is the sort of guy who gets all his information either from Golden (which means it is probably unreliable) and YouTube videos. He does not belong in the morally bankrupt world of Akheraj Awasthi.
Vikrant does everything that he can to escape from Purva’s clutches, but when Shikha is pulled into the conflict, he has no choice but to—as Jackie Shroff would say—grow a ‘merudand’ and face his enemies. Shweta Tripathi, however, is given the short end of the stick, chained to a reactionary character who spends most of her time on the run. Tripathi might as well be eating batata wadas off-screen in the large stretches where she is out of action.
In India especially, it is quite common for separate credits to be given for the screenplay and the ‘dialogues’. This has always been mystifying to me, because a screenplay is a screenplay, and anyone who contributes to it—either to the lines of the story—deserves to be credited for the script as a whole. But in Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein, the difference is quite stark. Despite a plot that is so flimsy it could crumble under the weight of a fidgety ant, the ‘dialogues’ by Varun Badola (the very same) are sharp, and often very funny. Especially in the first couple of episodes, which are more comedic than the ones towards the end.
Nothing is funnier, however than watching Brijendra Kala (try to) speak English. He’s the sort of actor who has the unique ability to draw belly laughs just by standing there, but imagine our good fortune, in Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein, he doesn’t shut up. As Vikrant’s career-‘chaaploos’ father, he’s sparkling in every scene, even when he’s yelling at someone on the phone about not having electricity at home.
Had Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein not lost that glint of mischief in its eye towards the end, it would’ve warranted an even more enthusiastic recommendation.
Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein
Director – Siddharth Sengupta
Cast – Tahir Raj Bhasin, Shweta Tripathi, Anchal Singh, Saurabh Shukla, Brijendra Kala, Anant Joshi