The most important thing to know about Abhay 2 is that there will be Abhay 3.
The second season of the Zee5 web series brings back one of the sharpest, surliest police officers in India. A few things have changed since we first met the youthful-looking leader of the Uttar Pradesh police’s special task force in 2019. Abhay Pratap Singh’s son, who occupied a great deal of screen time in the first round, has been banished to a boarding school. The widower (Kunal Kemmu) has gained a girlfriend, television journalist Sonam (Asha Negi), and has something resembling a sex life, even though he seems barely interested in the relationship.
Fortunately for his fanbase, Abhay hasn’t yet learnt to smile and is as frighteningly brilliant as ever. Abhay 2 introduces a couple of new characters – Nidhi Singh’s assistant Khushboo replaces Sandeepa Dhar from the first season and Abhay’s new boss is played by Mohan Kapoor. But the eight-episode series doesn’t lets itself be distracted from the main source of its popularity: the fantasy of watching a highly efficient law enforcement representative do what he is paid to do, untrammeled by outside influence or political pressure, and aided by a remarkably efficient system of record-keeping and archiving. Get me such-and-such case files from 20 years ago, Abhay orders, and voila, they arrive in ship-shape condition – just what our police force needs.
It’s also comforting to note that the samosa-loving Awasthi (Devender Chaudhary) is back, and is as inept as ever. Awasthi’s job remains to ask redundant questions – Sir! How do you do it? – and provide the few spots of comic relief in another otherwise grim narrative.
Ken Ghosh, who returns as director, and Hari K Vedantam, who lensed the first season, effectively create an atmosphere of suspense and dread the second time round. Kunal Kemmu, cast against type as a grim anti-reaper, is colder than before, if that is possible. Did the previous episodes harden the man with a troubled past? Abhay 2 doesn’t waste too much time on psychological characterisation. Abhay remains something of a cipher, which is part of his appeal, although the cliffhanger ending promises to fill in the gaps.
The sameness of watching Abhay channel his inner Sherlock Holmes and divine the truth from tyre marks and bone fragments is relieved by Ram Kapoor’s entertainingly flamboyant criminal. Each episode of the first season pitted Abhay against a psychotic criminal who specialised in gruesome disposal methods. The second season begins with another such specimen of degeneracy, but also includes an extra layer in the form of Ram Kapoor’s kidnapper.
Kapoor plays an unnamed gent who has tucked away a busload of children. He will reveal their whereabouts to Abhay one at a time if Abhay can solves a series of murders within a time frame. The abductor toys with Abhay, a bit like Hannibal Lecter did with Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs, and tries to push him over the edge ever so often.
Abhay has his hands full – after all, this is a corner of India where butchers are bountiful and there are enough lonely or abandoned locations in which to carry out grisly crimes. One of them targets bright college students. Another derives sexual pleasure from murder. Yet another is a horrific homophobe. The slayers include characters played by Chunky Pandey, Asheema Vardaan, Bidita Bag, Indraneil Sengupta and Raghav Juyal. Of the lot, Bidita Bag is the most effective as a sex worker with a dreadful side activity.
Limited in its approach by design, the series does what it promises to do. But the showrunners will need to add more depth to the characters rather than dream up new ways to wipe out the population if they want to take the franchise forward. If Abhay has to forge ahead, he is going to need more than a new adversary with an animus towards humanity. The second season flirts with the debate over vigilante justice, and perhaps Abhay might finally confront his demons whenever he returns (which is highly likely).
Will Abhay become less robotic in his responses and more human as we learn more about him? Is he having fun being the most hard-working and result-oriented investigator in the history of the police force anywhere in India? That’s a mystery even Abhay Pratap Singh can’t solve just yet.