The main draw of Prashant Nair’s Tryst With Destiny is an ensemble cast of fine actors who invest their characters with depth and feeling and enliven every one of their scenes. One half of the battle is won with the presence of such talent as Jaideep Ahlawat, Palomi Ghosh, Ashish Vidyarthi, Vineet Kumar Singh and Kani Kusruti. The other half – the plotting and writing – is left to take care of itself.
The latest project from the director of Delhi in a Day and Umrika began life as a feature. Tryst With Destiny was presented as a triptych at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2020, where it won an award for best screenplay. The movie has now emerged as a limited series on SonyLIV, but with four inter-connected stories.
The dicing makes little difference to the narrative flow. Each chapter is complete in itself despite connections with the others. Decades after Jawaharlal Nehru’s iconic speech that has inspired the project’s title and close to 75 years after Independence, a great deal remains undone, suggests Nair, who has also written the screenplay.
It begins with Mudiraj, an industrialist who is rudely reminded that despite gargantuan wealth and the respect he commands, his dark complexion will forever haunt him. Any empathy viewers could have for Mudiraj (Ashish Vidyarthi) is evened out by his portrayal as gauche, crooked, calculating and ruthless. Despite cautionary looks from his wife (Suhasini Maniratnam), Mudiraj barrels ahead with his version of revenge.
The second chapter revolves around the sorry lives of a Dalit couple in a village. The couple are not only unnamed but don’t speak a word during their ordeal, which includes enslavement and worse. Vineet Kumar Singh and Kani Kusruti movingly bring to life archetypal victims of the caste system.
The third episode tackles corruption of the wallet and the soul. A Mumbai policeman stoops to conquer the heart of his girlfriend, who is a few notches above his station and has a big spending habit. Once again, excellent performances by Jaideep Ahlawat and Palomi Ghosh help this schematic morality tale gain layers and poignance.
The fourth episode is actually half a chapter. Gitanjali Thapa leads a team of government officials to a village in Maharashtra where a man-eating tiger has been captured. A group led by Amit Sial has its own designs on the big cat. There’s a standoff, and that’s it.
Avinash Arun’s cinematography, thick with colour and texture, is a highlight alongside the performances. The background score by Benedict Taylor and Naren Chandavarkar might have been more impactful if it hadn’t been plastered over every other scene.
The episode that kicks off the series is perhaps the most complex and unpredictable in its theme and treatment. But the links between the chapters are tenuous, and the episodic approach results in sketchy explorations of complex subjects. The promise of creating a contemporary portrait of the failure of Nehruvian values is unfulfilled, like the Nehruvian project itself.