The Netflix series Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein opens with a quote from William Shakespeare’s play Othello: “For she had eyes and chose me.” A better line to summarise the heartland potboiler comes from its lead character. Money, power and women can be ruinous, Vikrant observes.
Unfortunately for Vikrant, all three elements unite in the same place and at the same time.
The first season of the eight-episode series is set in the fictional town Onkara, which sounds a lot like Vishal Bhardwaj’s Othello adaptation Omkara. Purva, an influential politician’s daughter, has been carrying a flame for Vikrant since childhood. That flame later develops into a bonfire for Vikrant, burning him and everything he holds dear, especially his girlfriend.
Engineering graduate Vikrant (Tahir Raj Bhasin) and Shikha (Shweta Tripathi Sharma) are all set to marry. When Purva (Anchal Singh) returns to Onkara, the first thing she does is begin spinning a web around Vikrant. That appears to be Purva’s only goal: to make Vikrant hers regardless of his wishes.
Onkara is an awfully small place (the first instance of the contrivance that will dog later episodes). Vikrant’s accountant father Suryakant (Brijendra Kala) not only works for Purva’s father Akheraj (Saurabh Shukla) but is also beholden to a thuggish leader. Before Vikrant knows it, he has been married to the mob.
The show sets up a reversal of gender roles, starting a male stalker in place of a woman. By exploiting her doting father’s stranglehold over local law enforcement, Purva is no different from the movie villains who can’t take no for an answer.
Vikrant too is hardly the male version of the doughty heroine who finds the strength to defeat her oppressor. Wilting before Purva’s diabolical resolve, Akheraj’s tendency to kill for sport and his own family’s blase attitude, Vikrant hems and haws his way to near-emasculation. He mans up only after Shikha gets the rough treatment.
However, there are few occasions to feel sorry for Vikrant. When he isn’t hand-wringing or leaning on his friend Golden (Anant Joshi), Vikrant is trawling the web for hot tips. The internet leads him to a possible fix for his agony as well as a tutorial on the correct way to summon tears at a snap (delivered to perfection by Aasif Sheikh).
Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein has been directed by Sidharth Sengupta (Balika Vadhu, Undekhi). Sengupta’s screenplay is based on a story idea by Anahata Menon and dialogue by Varun Badola. Black comedy bordering on satire accompanies Vikrant’s clumsy clawback to dignity.
The show’s title is inspired by the song from the movie Baazigar, in which Shah Rukh Khan played a murderous vendetta seeker. (Shivam Sengupta’s tuneless auto-tune remix plays over the closing credits.)
Khan has been both obsessed lover and an object of obsession in his films. Some portions of Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein are reminiscent of Chaahat, in which a gangster’s sister develops dangerous feelings for Khan’s character.
The series initially moves at a fast clip and covers a lot of ground in the first two episodes. Later episodes sag with illogical plot turns designed to lead to a cliffhanger and a second season.
A television anchor opposed to Akheraj keeps screeching away on the idiot box but doesn’t nothing to expose him. Akheraj seems to have eyes and ears everywhere but not where it’s needed the most. Purva, whose X-ray vision catches out Vikrant ever so often, becomes less potent as the series wears on.
Compelling performances, a consistent mood of sinister intent, and superior production values elevate Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein above the pulpy fare available on rival streamers. Tahir Raj Bhasin is sharp and heartfelt as the modern-day slave who is unable to speak up when it matters the most. Bhasin plays the near-comical Vikrant absolutely straight, making his fumbling credible and even pitiable.
Anchal Singh, as the frighteningly focused Purva, and Saurabh Shukla, as Purva’s terrible father, are also in fine form. Shweta Tripathi Sharma, who might have made an equally good Purva, is undervalued and underutilised. Brijendra Kala, as Vikrant’s spineless father, has a jolly good time spitting out profanity.
Vikrant ultimately reaches for a loaded gun to reclaim his manhood (there are plenty around in this cliche-ridden patch of the North Indian heartland). There was an easier path to payback if the show was better attuned to its vast, and untapped, psychological possibilities.
Vikrant rarely exploits his hold over Purva or takes advantage of his prized position as the son-in-law of an ultra-macho household. Another quote comes to mind, this time from a less lofty source than Shakespeare. “I will turn your face to alabaster, when you find your servant is your master,” Sting sings in The Police song Wrapped Around Your Finger.
Although Vikrant’s lack of conventional heroism is initially interesting and unusual, his descent into darkness proves enervating rather than unnerving. This object of a malevolent obsession bucks the type. But the series soon forgets its distinctiveness and becomes yet another bang-bang-in-the-badlands saga.