Khakee: The Bihar Chapter is designed as a classic supercop-versus-gangster contest. Inspired by real events, the Hindi-language Netflix series is led by a stellar cast and packed with details about Bihari manners. But it is more gripping with its fictions, rather than the facts.
Created by prolific security establishment tracker Neeraj Pandey, the seven-episode series is based on Amit Lodha’s memoir Bihar Diaries: The True Story of How Bihar’s Most Dangerous Criminal Was Caught. In the book, Amit Lodha, a serving Indian Police Service officer, chronicles his successful crackdown on a criminal gang led by Ashok Mahto.
In the series, Amit (Karan Tacker) gets a lesson about Bihar even before he gets off the train transporting him and his wife Tanu (Nikita Dutta) there. An elderly man informs Amit that Bihar has its own rhyme and rhythm – officers who get posted there earn either money or a reputation.
The train is halted out of turn to receive Amit, much to the adviser’s consternation. Amit’s official residence has no electricity. His oleaginous boss Mukteshwar Chaubey (Ashutosh Rana) has risen through the ranks by ladling out flattery. Amit runs into hurdles on his very first assignment, but overcomes them because his tormentors are simply too well-mannered.
In the first episode itself, Khakee: The Bihar Chapter, written by Umashankar Singh and directed by Bhav Dhulia, sets up the quagmire through which Amit is expected to wade. In the show’s moral matrix, the ordinary people of one of India’s poorest states are at the mercy of venal politicians and the gangs that keep them in power. It takes a few good men – like Amit Lodha – to fix a problem that has bedevilled Bihar for decades, the show suggests hopefully (and naively).
Amit’s adversary is Chandan Mahto (based on Ashok Mahto). A low-caste hothead who rises swiftly through the underworld to lead his own gang, Chandan (Avinash Tiwary) resembles the fictional Bhiku Mhatre from Ram Gopal Varma’s film Satya in his impatience with the code of honour that rules his realm. Chandan’s mentor is Abhyuday Singh (Ravi Kishan), who treats Chandan as a useful idiot and sweet-talks him into precarious situations.
Low-level officer Ranjan (Abhimanyu Singh) has Chandan in his crosshairs, but is unable to nab him because of events in faraway Patna. Chandan’s fate depends on the results of the Assembly election. If Ujiyaar Prasad (Vinay Pathak), the cow-rearing incumbent chief minister modelled on Lalu Prasad Yadav, wins, Chandan dies. If Ujiyaar’s rival Sarvesh Kumar (Nawal Shukla), inspired by Nitish Kumar wins, Chandan can die another day.
We know how that election went. Ranjan’s frustration over the foiled operation is compounded when Chandan massacres several villagers. A suspended Ranjan stews away until he is summoned to get back into the field by Chandan’s nemesis. With Ranjan’s help and the aid of surveillance technology, a network of informers, and one of the seven deadly Biblical sins, Amit comes closer to putting Chandan behind bars.
The saga of a few good men battling a bunch of very bad men tackles a reality of Bihar and the man who inspired Chandan Mahto by largely ignoring it. Chandan’s rage against upper-caste oppression is crystallised when he meets the delightfully named Chyawanprash Kumar (Jatin Sarna) in prison. Although Chandan’s massacring tendencies are caste-agnostic, the show has nothing to say about a man from the bottom of the pile shimmying up in the only way he knows how to.
Amit’s similarly casteless drive and technocratic impulses are presented as an example of good policing. There are scenes filmed in slow motion that come close to presenting Amit as Singham, only more real.
The narrative is more credible when it focuses on its characters and the milieu in which they operate. Ashutosh Rana has a series of delightful scenes in which Mukteshwar displays the velvet tongue and thick hide needed to stay ahead of the promotions game. In a scene with Ujiyaar Prasad, Mukteshwar positively giggles in the more powerful man’s presence.
Mukteshwar is clearly the show’s resident clown. When his desktop is replaced with a state-of-the-art laptop, he complains bitterly that he has been downsized.
Among the seasoned actors who fully understand the stakes is Abhimanyu Singh, nicely cast against type as a principled policeman. Ravi Kishan is hilarious as Abhyuday Singh, whose badminton playing is compared by a flunky to tennis champion Martina Hingis.
Sharp casting shines the spotlight on relatively unknown faces, including Satish Badal as Tola Singh, who has a lovely singing voice, and Aishwarya Sushmita as Chyawanprash Kumar’s assertive wife Meeta Devi.
Writer Umashankar Singh’s way with words lead to numerous aphorism-ridden moments as well as astute observations on the rot in governance. Politicians love an honest officer but not in their own government, a character observes.
Singh’s eloquence runs dry when it comes to the caste question. The perverse rise of Ashok Mahto in a state historically riven by unshakeable caste hierarchies is a sideshow when it could have been the real deal.