It’s a double bill week for the talented actor Avinash Tiwary. He plays a Mumbai hoodlum with daddy issues in Prime Video’s Bambai Meri Jaan. In Disney+ Hotstar’s Kaala, Tiwari is an Intelligence Bureau officer on the trail of a hawala racket. Here too, daddy issues abound, but in different ways.
The eight-episode Kaala moves chaotically between time periods. In 1988, Indian soldier Shubhendu (Rohan Vinod Mehra) is accused of treason during an operation against a rebel Bangladeshi group.
Shubhendu drops off the grid and adopts a new identity. His daughter Aloka (Elisha Mayor) has no idea that Shubhendu is working in the shadows, going after the men who framed him.
In 2018, Ritwik (Tiwary) is a gung-ho government officer out to nail hawala kingpin Naman (Taher Shabbir). When not plagued by memories of his missing father, Ritwik is tirelessly trying to gather evidence against Naman.
Ritwik’s team includes Sitara (Nivetha Pethuraj), with whom he is romantically involved, and his beleaguered boss Himanshu (Danish Aslam). The task is uphill, complicated by forces beyond Ritwik’s control, his distance from the big picture and his foolhardy ways.
Vital leads come a cropper even though Bengal’s chief minister (Mita Vashisht, channeling someone we might know) has pledged her support to Ritwik. Naman seems to be getting away. Ritwik’s path crosses with Aloka, who is grappling with a personal tragedy, distracting him from his operation.
A third flashback, to 1965, reveals the antecedents of Balwant (Jitin Gulati). One of Shubhendu’s adversaries, Balwant has a secret that loops back to the present in the same manner that Ritwik’s mission connects to his father and the meaning of events in 1998.
Kaala has been created by Bejoy Nambiar and Shubhra Swarup and directed by Nambiar. The Hindi-language show is overly fond of drawing connections between seemingly disparate characters, lobbing twists and amping up the drama.
The tone is frequently overwrought. Kaala takes its flourishes very seriously, dragging out events to far too many episodes. Nearly drowned out by the messy histrionics is a serviceable series about high-stakes corruption and the hard choices made by individuals.
The numerous characters include Siva Ananth as Ritwik’s handler, Kaushik Mukherjee as a hitman, Hiten Tejwani as Naman’s associate, and Ajinkya Deo as the partner of Ritwik’s mother. Shakti Kapoor and Priyanka Bose turn up as hawala dealers. The identity of Naman’s mother is revealed with the kind of ta-da! flourish that falls flat, since alert viewers will have figured it out a few episodes before.
The best ideas in Kaala have to do with people, rather than the criminal conspiracy itself. Although frequently instructed to overact, Avinash Tiwary, Danish Aslam and Nivetha Pethuraj leave a mark.
Vendetta is guided by as well as derailed by attachment, Kaala fruitfully shows in the sequences revolving around Shubhendu, Balwant and Ritwik. Balwant’s back story is moving, although the character’s graph is gimmicky, apart from being clumsily handled.
Some of the better crafted scenes revolve around workplace dynamics. The turf war between Ritwik’s IB, the Central Bureau of Investigation and the local Kolkata police is depicted with the wryness seen in Raj & DK’s The Family Man. At least one of the side-plots, between two officers herded together for the investigation, is smartly explored and nicely concluded.