The new Amazon Prime Video web series Afsos is supposedly based on a novel whose author remains unidentified. Was Golpur Goru Chaande ever committed to the page or is it a joke, like the fake disclaimer that precedes the Coen brothers’ 1996 cult movie Fargo (“This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.”)
Keep wondering. Meanwhile, there is no ambiguity about who is driving Afsos, which has unusual subject matter that makes it vastly different from other shows on streaming platforms. The irreverent series has been created by Anirban Dasgupta and Dibya Chatterjee and written by them along with Sourav Ghosh. Director Anubhuti Kashyap deftly navigates the peaks and troughs of a black comedy with lashings of existentialism and a penchant for alternative history. The cast is stellar, with the always-watchable Gulshan Devaiah in pole position as the man who doesn’t want to live but is simply unable to die.
Devaiah’s Nakul is a serial suicide attempter who has failed despite his best efforts. His therapist Shloka (Anjali Patil) ladles out life-affirming cliches (“Quitting is not an option, Nakul!”), but he is unmoved. Nakul contacts the merciful duo at the Emergency Exit agency to organise a hit on himself. Emergency Exit, which helps people reach their makers faster, is run by Maria (Ratnabali Bhattacharjee) and Vikram (Ujjwal Chopra) out of a trailer somewhere in Mumbai and has “Fargo” signs all over, presumably as a tribute to the Coens’ macabre vision.
The task of liberating Nakul from his agony is handed to the single assassin on the agency’s payroll (the operation is as lean as it is mean). This grim reaper is better known by her surname, Upadhyay, and she would win the Employee of the Year award hands-down – once she takes on an assignment, she will fulfill it, even if the client has a change of heart.
Upadhyay (Heeba Shah) carves notches on her hand representing her kills, but she is somehow unable to finish off Nakul. The answer has everything to do with the quest for immortality represented by Fokatiya (Robin Das), a sadhu from Uttar Pradesh. Fokatiya believes that he holds in his palms amrut, or elixir, the same fluid of eternal life written about in the holy texts. The inspector Bir (Akash Dahiya) from Uttarakhand thinks that Fokatiya is a killer. The suited-booted scientist Goldfish (Jamie Alter) predicts that by 2054, humankind will have conquered death and will live forever.
Nakul, meanwhile, chooses his side of the debate and decides that he wants to live after all. Upadhyay is unmoved. Weapons are discharged. Declarations of love are made. A police investigation gets underway. Fokatiya arrives in Mumbai, as does inspector Bir and a mysterious tourist (Danish Sait).
The game of who gets to live and who dies is a familiar one. The makers of Afsos, which is always meant to be taken lightly despite tackling metaphysical themes, have an added challenge – who cares? It helps that the characters are sharply etched and mostly superbly performed, and that the deadpan comedic tone remains more or less consistent throughout the eight-episode run. When Fokatiya’s elixir doesn’t work as expected, a laidback Mumbai police inspector has an excellent response: it’s a matter for the consumer court, he says.
There’s no shortage of imagination here, only a familiar tendency to keep the strangeness coming at all costs. A track involving Shloka and the granite-hearted Upadhaya carries on for far too long, just like the series, which expands its scope to include urban legends and conspiracy theories. The regrets include the underutilisation of the talented Akash Dahiya, Danish Sait’s silly fake Russian number, and the underserviced Nakul-Shloka romance, which is among the reasons Nakul chooses to try living over dying. Gulshan Devaiah and Anjali Patil make a fine pair, but their connection gets lost as the chase for the man who will live forever wanders on, about and off course.