A young Adivasi man who has never seen his reflection in a mirror swaps his bow and arrow for a sniper’s rifle in order to avenge the destruction of his tribe. If you believe this, you can believe anything that goes on in Aar Ya Paar.
The Disney+ Hotstar series gives the urgent issue of the exploitation of indigenous communities the fully filmy treatment. Designed as a battle between sinister suits and forest-dwellers dressed in brown sack-like costumes, the show even has Avatar-like moments – but without the visual effects.
Uranium has been discovered on land inhabited by an indigenous group. Ruthless industrialist Rueben (Ashish Vidyarthi) unleashes a reign of terror on the tribe. Sarju (Aditya Rawal), whose father is among the victims, swears revenge, becoming a contract killer for the fixer Pullappa (Dibyendu Bhattacharya). Pullappa’s strings are, in turn, being yanked by the gangster Wasim (Aasif Sheikh).
Rueben has at his disposal a blood-thirsty special forces unit. Rueben also manipulates the doctor Sanghamitra (Patralekha) into gaining the favour of Sarju and his people.
When matters gets out of hand, Sarju flees with the help of Pullappa and Sanghamitra. Sympathetic Central Bureau of Investigation officer Aditya (Sumeet Vyas) soon realises that Sarju isn’t the “Naxalite” he is made out to be, and that the real villain is someone else.
Aar Ya Paar has been created by Sidharth Sengupta, written by Sengupta, Avinash Singh and Vijay Narayan Verma, and directed by Glen Barettto, Ankush Mohla and Neel Guha. The show proves that an amped-up style oozing with Bollywood-style flourishes is singularly unsuited to exploring the sustained destruction of indigenous habitats, the ignorance and prejudice about Adivasis and the collusion between big industry and security forces.
The credibility crisis begins with the portrayal of the Adivasis as simple-minded jungle folk who have a herbal remedy for a sophisticated illness but otherwise shun medical treatment.
Sarju, who shudders when he sees himself in the mirror for the first time, masters modern technology in less time than it takes to say “Excuse me, what?” Sanghamitra, initially a willing shill for Rueben, is even less believable.
It’s well-meaning, of course, suffused with generalised sympathy for the crisis facing tribals and stacked with respectable actors. The one thing the show gets right is the cynicism and cruelty with which Adivasis are treated.
Ashish Vidyarthi is impressive as a venal businessman who delegates the carnage to his minions but isn’t above doing the dirty work himself. I have sacrificed a great deal just so that you may lecture me on morals, he tells his guilt-stricken son Goldie (Vaarun Bhagat).
The most memorable character is Pullappa, who trembles before Wasim’s henchmen and reserves his swagger for the highly impressionable Sarju. Pullappa brainwashes the naive Sarju by claiming to be an older version of the young Adivasi. I too have seen my tribe being destroyed, Pullappa frequently tells Sarju. Dibyendu Bhattacharya’s hugely enjoyable performance humanises this smooth-tongued trickster, who isn’t too different from Reuben in villainy.
As Sarju, Aditya Rawal glowers endlessly. Frequently described as a warrior, Rawal strains every sinew to play a character who has emerged out a zone somewhere between a comic book and a James Bond movie.