Vampires need dental treatment too. Who would have thought? Pratim Dasgupta imagines this unlikely situation and much more, in his entertaining Kolkata-set fantasy series Tooth Pari: When Love Bites.
The eight-episode Netflix show repairs the hole drilled into the reputation of dentistry by 2022’s clunker Freddy. Tooth Pari’s hero Roy (Shantanu Maheshwari) is a winsome and polite professional who appears to have been teleported from another era. It figures that the one whom he falls for is several decades old too.
The vampire Rumi (Tanya Maniktala) has lost one of her deadly canines – a bad turn of events in her world. Roy is too busy locking peepers with Rumi to notice the red flags.
There’s a great deal that Roy doesn’t know but viewers are introduced to early on. Rumi is from “Neeche”, the lair below the surface to which vampires have been banished. Neeche is governed by the double-dealing Adi Deb (Adil Hussain) and his nasty enforcer Ora (Anish Railkar). Neeche might be a prison but it’s well stocked with a “Blood Bar” and amusements for its inmates. There also appears to be a wardrobe department – Rumi is impeccably turned out, as are her netherworld pals David (Saswata Chatterjee) and Meera (Tillotama Shome).
The rebellious Rumi escapes every so often to “Upar”. Above live decent folks like Roy and his parents, but also the vampire hunters called the Cutmundus, led by the witch Luna Luka (Revathi). Biren Pal (Anjan Dutt) used to be a member of the Cutmundus, but is now ailing and unable to convince his police inspector son Kartik (Sikandar Kher) that bloodsuckers continue to loaf about. When Kartik meets a victim of a well-aimed assault on the carotid artery, he too begins to believe.
Like the sweet roshogolla with a touch of the savoury that is concocted by Roy and his father, Tooth Pari has much to savour. The screenplay, by Dasgupta and Sejal Pachisia, is high on humour and romance. There are plenty of dreamy moments between Roy and Rumi. Kartik is the chief snark supplier, while bad-tempered vibes flow from the strikingly attired Luna Luka.
The dialogue alternates between Bengali and Hindi. Kolkata, with its rich history of fantasy literature and mixture of architectural styles, proves to be a suitable playground for a show that relies on our ability to suspend disbelief and then rewards us for it. The convincing evocation of parallel universes slips only when the makers need to conjure up ways for the humans and vampires to meet. How is it that Neeche, so well-hidden from Luna Luka and her undead-hunting crew, is also so easily found?
Strongly written sequences, slick production values, and a bunch of memorable characters make up for the scripting contrivances and patches of iffy acting. Tanya Maniktala and Shantanu Maheshwari make a lovely couple, flush with youthful ardour. Sikandar Kher is superb as Kartik, whose journey from alcoholism to sobriety and relationship with his father constitute the show’s only properly grown-up sub-plot.
Saswata Chatterjee, as the dandy David, and Tillotama Shome, as the highly theatrical Meera, are hilarious counterpoints to Roy’s overwrought parents, played at just the right pitch by Rajatava Dutta and Swaroopa Ghosh. An extended sequence in which David and Meera meet the senior Roys is comic gold.