Beaches, football, drugs and organised crime –- these disparate facets of the coastal state of Goa come together in the web series Zero Kms, released on Wednesday on the digital platform Zee5. The thriller, directed by Q, was billed as the digital debut of Naseeruddin Shah. Alas, the veteran actor graces the screen only occasionally, though his presence looms large over the plot.
Q is known for his edgy, controversial films (Gandu, Ludo, Brahman Naman) that rarely make it to theatres but tour the festival circuit, so the internet has always been the platform of choice for his creations. With Zero Kms, Q gets ample space to let explore his creative energy. The result is interesting but unwieldy.
In an earlier interview to Scroll.in, the director described Zero Kms as a “super fun action series” and a refreshing break from the darkness of his earlier outing Garbage, which was premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in February. Fun it is, but Zero Kms is also gory and sombre.
The plot centres on Arjun aka Diego (Tanmay Dhanania), the son of a police officer who is sent to jail for 10 years for a crime he did not commit. While there, for reasons unclear, he is trained in combat techniques by Naseeruddin Shah’s Guru, a teacher who believes in Whiplash-style tough love. “No rest, no tiredness, the pain is your friend,” he urges Arjun, whose prison stint transforms him from a scrawny youngster into a muscular man.
Even as Arjun is getting acquainted afresh with a life of freedom, his brother Shyam (who is also called Zizou) is murdered, and Arjun becomes the prime suspect.
As Arjun goes on the run, he learns that his brother has left behind a trail of clues – the answers to which lie in their childhood love for football – that will lead him to the killers. Arjun’s mission, in which he is accompanied by Guru’s daughter, the deceptively named Tommy (Tara D’Souza), takes him through a world of evil police officers, Russian drug lords and sickle-wielding killers. Lording over it all is the mysterious Desmond. The show also stars Satyadeep Mishra, Vaibhavi Upadhayaya, Roshni Walia and Mukul Chadda.
With rapid cuts, abstract symbolism and dreamy flashbacks, Q brings an independent cinema aesthetic to the series. But he wastes the opportunity to deliver a truly novel series by failing to iron out the inconsistencies and loopholes in the plot. By the end of the first season, several questions remain unanswered – and it’s not clear if that’s a deliberate choice or an oversight. For instance, why was Guru training Arjun in prison for an undefined mission? How did Arjun know to look for a first clue after his brother’s death? If an explanation is given in season two, it will come too late, considering viewers need to be invested in Arjun’s quest for the first 12 episodes.
There are other weak links. The choice of a voice-over to relay Arjun’s thoughts is trite and distracting, his fighting skills are unconvincing, a debauched den of a Russian gangster seems to have been thrown in for no good reason. The protagonist finds himself in strategic places with no explanation over how he got there despite being on the run from the police.
By the end of season one, Zero Kms seems like a journey enjoyable in parts but ultimately unfulfilling. There is potential, however, for a second season to bring some much-needed clarity.