Amazon Prime Video’s first Telugu web series GangStars describes itself as belonging to the “Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron genre”. We have two words in response to that claim: “Forget it.”
GangStars is about the forced nexus between a deadly gangster and a crew from the Telugu film industry. The 12-episode series has been conceived and written by BV Nandhini Reddy, who shot to fame with the Telugu hit Ala Modalaindi (2011). Directed by Ajay Bhuyan (Phir Se, Dhada), the project has some big names, including veteran Telugu actor Jagapati Babu and Early Monsoon Tales, the web division of Mahanati producer Vyjayanthi Movies. The cast includes Shweta Basu Prasad, Apoorva Arora, Navdeep and Sidhu Jonalagadda.
The idea of looking for humour in the unholy alliance between the underworld and the film industry initially sounds promising. Local Telugu rowdy KD (Jagapati Babu) is diagnosed with cancer. With six months left to live, KD has to decide what to do with the black money he has accumulated over the years. He wants to make sure that the money is available to his wife and their child. Rather than real estate and politics, KD decides to launder the money by becoming a movie producer.
A movie project is put together with A-list stars Vishwa (Navdeep) and Aishwarya (Basu Prasad). Both stars come with strings attached, including their managers (Arora and Jonalagadda) who, in a very convenient coincidence, share a complicated past with each other.
Reddy and Bhuyan add some candid and honest touches to the comedy every now and then, especially in the sections involving the workings of the film industry. They do not shy away from referring to the tantrums of A-list stars, the arbitrariness with which things get added to or removed from scripts, and the manner in which film news is reported. Two secondary characters stand apart: the character of Vishwa’s father, whose only aim on a movie set is to find an audience for his exaggerated stories about himself, and the unlucky director who is forced to helm a film on the gangster’s tight deadline and amidst several problems.
None of these aspects manage to eclipse the fact that the series loses direction once KD decides to fund the film. Plenty of time is wasted in setting up the back story of the two managers, both of whom are poor actors. With the exception of Shweta Basu Prasad, all the others actors deliver over-the-top performances. Jagapati Babu is better off affecting menace than trying his hand at comedy.
GangStars mostly suffers from trying too hard to orchestrate a comedy of errors. For a few episodes, the series relies on the incompatibility of the film’s crew, but when that track goes nowhere, it introduces a fresh and outrageous plot twist followed by an even more implausible climax. The experience of watching the series struggle to keep an involuntary comedy from falling apart is arduous.