By the end of the first season of the blood-splattered Mirzapur (2018), the corpses had piled up. Among the victims was one of two brothers – the wrong one.
Bablu (Vikrant Massey) had set out along with his sibling Guddu (Ali Fazal) to join the ranks of Mirzapur don Akhandanand (Pankaj Tripathi). Bablu’s mind-over-might approach had endeared him to Akhandanand, but had incurred the envy and wrath of Akhandanand’s psychotic son Munna (Divyenndu). In the final episode of Mirzapur, Munna blew Bablu’s precious brains out, removing a competitor from his path and inching closer to claiming his father’s opium-and-guns empire.
You wish that I had died instead of Bablu, Guddu tells his father (Rajesh Tailang) in the latest outing. Indeed, there are moments in the frequently ponderous and heavily bloated second season when the absence of the balance provided by Bablu, a well-written character deftly portrayed by Vikrant Massey, is sorely felt.
What if the thoughtful and calculating Bablu had survived instead of his lunkhead sibling? Mirzapur 2 might have not felt the need to invent new characters to ramp up the intrigue. These fresh entrants deliver enough scheming and maneuvering to last 10 episodes, but the show’s writers, Puneet Krishna and Vineet Krishna, aren’t done yet. Like a Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise that stretches on unto eternity, a time-bound story revolving around revenge for fresh wounds is threatening to evolve into a saga that will persist for a few more seasons.
It’s all about business, characters keep reminding each other in the latest season, directed by Gurmmeet Singh and Mihir Desai. The first season entertainingly balanced carnage and comedy as it explored Munna’s efforts to pull the rug out from under his father’s feet. Akhandanand, known as Kaleen Bhaiya for running a carpet factory that concealed his real business, had seemingly handed over the baton to the unstable Munna – but hold that thought.
Akhandanand now wants real power, not just the kind that flows from the barrel of one of his crudely manufactured guns. Not content with ruling this corner of Uttar Pradesh, Akhandanand strikes a votes-for-a-ministerial-berth deal with chief minister Surya Pratap Yadav (Paritosh Sand). The chief minister’s brother JP Yadav (Pramod Pathak) – a holdover from the first season – is outraged at the slight and bides his time in the company of his svelte secretary.
The list of the disgruntled is long. It includes the son of Ratikant Shukla, Akhandanand’s slain rival. Sharad Shukla (Anjum Sharma) is among those who plays a dual-edged game of crisscross and double-cross.
More satisfying than Sharad’s feeble feints are the diabolical darts thrown by Akhandanand’s wife Beena (Rasika Dugal). She was horribly punished by her depraved father-in-law (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) for having an affair. Beena sharpens her claws and waits for the right moment to strike.
Also in the queue for retribution is police officer Maurya (Amit Sial), whom Akhandanand rudely showed his place in the previous season. Maurya appears to have temporarily given up his crusading ways, and he sits it out for a few episodes.
Top of the list, of course, is Guddu, hobbled by an injury but thirsting for revenge for the deaths of his brother Bablu and his pregnant wife Sweety. Guddu is joined in his mission by Sweety’s sister Golu (Shweta Tripathi). Golu has emerged as a gangster in her own right, wielding a gun with as much ease as she handled Hindi novels in the previous season.
Will crying make us weak, Guddu asks Golu. Never, but it does make them dull. Although Shweta Tripathi is excellent in the second season too, and Ali Fazal works hard on portraying Guddu’s expanding emotional landscape, the stage is overcrowded, with too many rivals demanding to be seen and heard.
The new players include Sharad’s associate Tyagi (Vijay Verma), who comes with his own dysfunctional family. Also thrown into the mix is the financial wunderkind Robin (Priyanshu Painyuli), whose collection of brightly patterned shirts is as abundant as tall tales about his mother.
Kinship ties, the source of power as well as misery in the series, also embroils the chief minister. His daughter Madhuri (Isha Talwar) plays a prominent role in enhancing Akhandanand’s never-ending woes. Even Akhandanand’s chief enforcer Maqbool (Shaji Chaudhary) is burdened with a responsibility that tests his loyalty to his boss.
The narrative strand that is the strongest is the one that held the first season in place. The need to pass on the family name blinds Akhandanand Tripathi to his father’s perversity and his son’s limitations. This game of thrones was always about the Tripathis, just as Game of Thrones was ultimately about the fate of the Starks. The best scenes take place in the Tripathi household, where profanity is served with delicacies at the dining table and bedrooms hide nasty secrets. The most memorable moments are not between Guddu and Golu as they process their grief. Mirzapur is at its most affecting when examining Akhandanand’s balancing act between his family and his personal ambition.
The generational conflict allows Munna to evolve in interesting ways. Divyenndu slips into Munna’s skin with the same ease as he did in the first season. Rasika Dugal’s bewitching and ruthless Beena remains one of the show’s strongest and most unforgettable characters.
The most prominent personage in Mirzapur is still its chief draw. Pankaj Tripathi’s Akhandanand hasn’t lost his delightful faux gravitas, business smarts and very human failings. The arena might be packed and the contenders many, but Pankaj Tripathi will always be the king of Mirzapur.
The writers’ ability to churn out meme-worthy dialogue survives into the second season, lifting many flabby scenes with smart lines. But they’ve forgotten one adage in the compulsion to move towards yet another season: “kill your babies.” Many die in Mirzapur – some who shouldn’t have and others who needed to have.