Flesh is neither for the faint-hearted nor viewers who want the urgent issue of human trafficking to be handled with sensitivity instead of sensationalism.
The Eros Now original web series is as sodden and sordid as the title suggests. Seething with depraved and remorseless criminals amongst whom struggle a few good men and women, Flesh takes the route of maximum effect and minimum affect. While attempting to express moral outrage over the abduction and sale of children and young women, the eight-episode show conjures up its own version of atrocity porn. These include children being brutalised, violent methods to deal with recalcitrant hoodlums and many instances of perversity and cruelty.
The action moves between Mumbai and Kolkata. In Mumbai, Zoya (Mahima Makwana), the 16-year-old daughter of Shekhar (Yudhishtir Urs) and Reba (Vidya Malvade), is abducted by a smooth-talking man she has recently met through Instagram. Zoya is the latest victim of a trafficking ring led by Shuvo (Uday Tikekar) and managed by his nephew Niketan (Sayandeep Sensharma) and enforcer Taj (Akshay Oberoi).
The case lands on the desk of Radha (Swara Bhasker), a swaggering, rum-loving police officer whose rule-breaking tendencies frequently get her into trouble. Separately, a group of children, which includes the doughty Rajji and her brother Rajat, has been kidnapped by a pair of nasty criminals.
I want to line up all the sex traffickers in the world on a beach and shoot them dead, declares Radha. Yet, Radha reacts slowly to Zoya’s disappearance and struggles to join the dots. Radha’s initial inefficiency gives the series an excuse to draw out Zoya’s agony. She is being transported into a netherworld along with a bunch of other women, and Flesh makes sure that she suffers deeply every step of the way.
Back in Kolkata, Shuvo’s hatchet man Taj is redefining degeneracy. A stereotyped drug-addled bisexual who likes it rough, Taj earns his psychotic reputation many times over. Actor Akshay Oberoi’s get-up includes colourful shirts, streaked hair, and a nose-ring. Like the rest of the show, he goes for broke in underlining Taj’s monstrous ways.
The story is by Sidharth Anand and Sagar Pandya and the screenplay by Pooja Ladha Surti. Danish Aslam directs the proceedings, which linger in the depths of the grindhouse for the most part. The profanity is casual and frequent, but pales before the gratuitous visuals. The female characters are rarely spared. Even the children are not shielded from unmentionable horrors delivered by their tormentors as well as the makers.
Films and shows about exploitation frequently deploy exploitative scenes for their shock value. If the idea is to startle viewers out of their complacency, Flesh will qualify as a super-hit.
The relentlessly dire mood allows for some moments of tenderness. Rajji’s love for her brother moves the child to discover her strength and bravery. Radha and her assistant Naman (Siddhant Behl) have an on-off thing that resembles love. He flirts with her, and she rejects his affections with the hint of a blush.
There is some brain amidst the brawn. A big twist in the later episodes is deftly executed, even though it takes the show in the direction of melodrama. The plight of the trafficked children and women is depicted with the force of a sledgehammer, but their agony is palpable and credible. Swara Bhasker effectively conveys Radha’s struggle to achieve results within the constrains of law enforcement. Natasa Stankovic has a neat cameo as Pearl, a sex worker with a satisfying secret.