Shehar Lakhot takes Navdeep Singh back to the North Indian badlands he explored in his films Manorama Six Feet Under and NH10. Nothing good can emerge from a denuded landscape populated by amoral people who cannot speak Hindi without resorting to profanity, it seems. Accordingly, Singh’s web series for Prime Video is seething with unapologetic cynics, hopeless romantics, and at least one young man very slow on the uptake.
He resembles the clueless detective Jake Gittes from Chinatown, the Hollywood neo-noir classic that Manorama recycled. Career fixer Dev (Priyanshyu Painyuli) is always the last to know what’s going on, even when the truth is staring him in the face.
Sent back to his hometown Lakhot for an errand, the frequently stoned Dev first loses his car, which is on loan from his boss, and then his brother Jay (Kashyap Sanghari). Dev’s pursuit for vehicle and sibling leads to the gates of Kairav’s mansion. A marble mining magnate whose wealth clearly flows from something else altogether, Kairav (Chandan Roy Sanyal) is preening peacock as well as savage king of the jungle.
Dev’s entanglements are numerous. Adivasi leader Vikas (Chandan Roy) is leading an agitation against mining projects. There’s Rajbir (Manu Rishi Chadha), the reliably grubby-handed police officer who can always be found in shows of this type. Rajbir’s principled junior Pallavi (Kubbra Sait) is an aberration, insisting on investigating the death of an unidentified European woman even though nobody else cares.
Dev’s old flame Sandhya (Shruthy Menon) is involved with Kairav. The psychotic siblings Bhi (Manjiri Pupala) and Bho (Sanjay Shiv Narayan) carry out Kairav’s assignments with unvarnished glee.
The series has been created and written by Navdeep Singh and Devika Bhagat. The immense bloat flowing from the need to drag out a simple plot to eight episodes is enervating, but the actors keep interest levels from flagging.
The needlessly coarse dialogue, which includes insults to parentage and references to body parts, is less effective than the declarations of black-hearted insouciance. Players big and small in Shekar Lakhot always sound scarier than they actually are.
When my brother died, I took a 10-minute cigarette break – it’s another matter that I was the one who killed him, Dev’s boss solemnly informs him. I don’t like loud noise and flaky people, a soon-to-be-exposed politician sanctimoniously tells Kairav.
As Kairav, the always-dependable Chandan Roy Sanyal is the smoothest operator. This scene-stealing actor nails Kairav’s nastiness and pomposity, making it almost possible to forgive Kairav his many perversities.
When Kairav destroys his bric-a-brac in a rage, or quotes Plato and Shakespeare (on different occasions), it’s difficult to supress a grin. Also Kairav, seemingly speaking for the show itself: it’s a good story, even though it’s like a film with loopholes and all.
Kairav prides himself on his erudition, even though his back story suggests otherwise. Although Shehar Lakhot creates convincing back stories for its characters, the cupboard is mostly bare when it comes to the grand conspiracy eventually uncovered by Dev.
Priyanshu Painyuli dexterously carries off the challenging role of a low-wattage, shambolic hero. An enjoyable sub-strand revolves around Chandrakant (Praveen Nithariya), Lakhot’s scoop-hungry journalist who has a yen for Pallavi.
Although having appeared as a venal criminal often enough, Manu Rishi Chadha is an entertaining mix of buffoonery and bestiality. Chandan Roy does a fine job as the unforgivably naive Vikas.
Without any suspense about the fate of key characters, or a fresh look at a formulaic plot, Shehar Lakhot cruises along because of its patches of wicked humour and a compelling cast. The distractions are necessary in a show about a town where everybody knows everybody else, went to the same school and nurse playground spats that have ballooned into deadly grievances.
Dev has an excuse for why he has been out of touch, but the inability of other characters to be to up speed with their neighbours is bewildering. The device, meant to reveal a frog-in-the-well attitude, only serves as a contrivance to allow Dev to bumble, and bumble and…