After a shadowy start, Asur starts to build, sucking you into a dark and dangerous world, ending each episode with a dramatic hook. The story unfolds on two timelines. The web series opens 11 years ago, in Varanasi. A boy and his father are on a boat during an initiation ceremony, which ends in tragedy.
In present-day America, Nikhil (Barun Sobti) is teaching forensic science. His peaceful life with his wife and daughter is interrupted when he begins to receive coordinates for corpses from an unknown number in India. Intrigued and concerned, the forensics genius ditches his dead-end desk job and returns to India, joins the Central Bureau of Investigation and immerses himself in the case of a serial killer.
This eight-part drama on Voot Select, while high on atmospherics, succumbs to genre overload. Mythology, psychology, murder, mystery, karma, redemption, revenge, good and evil are all packed into creator Gaurav Shukla’s show.
A complex plot that explores the polarity of science against philosophy and logic versus belief both evolves and confuses. Nikhil’s connection to the killings and his fractious relationship with mentor Dhananjay (Arshad Warsi) are developed in each episode, but the script also often takes sweeping liberties. For instance, reliance on instinct over investigation, the absence of curiosity about the killer cutting off his victims’ fingers, or questioning why the killer has singled out Nikhil to share details of the dead bodies.
Dhananjay and Nikhil, with the help of Lolark (Sharib Hashmi), are the only ones actually contributing anything substantial towards cracking the case. As the body count increases, the show also attains an eerie breathlessness. However, in the crucial last two episodes, it loses its hard-won grip. New twists, more complications and gratuitous tragedy are thrown into the mix.
Sobti looks tired and dishevelled, whether he is a teacher in America or a CBI investigator harrowed by brutal murders. There is perpetual exhaustion to his Nikhil, but he impressively conveys a blend of awareness, instinct and empathy. Warsi appears to be enjoying a meaty, non-comedic role. He amps up the egoistical part of DJ, which doesn’t believe in playing by the rules, but his character needed to have greater direction as a perceptive expert as well.
The other pillars of the series are Anupriya Goenka as Nikhil’s wife Naina, Sharib Hashmi as CBI colleague Lolark, Amey Wagh as tech expert Rasool and Vishesh Bansal as the stoic young Shubh.
Given a richly detailed script, director Oni Sen crafts each episode with the right beats, accentuated with a background score, cinematography and production design, to make Asur a gripping watch.