The Disney+ Hotstar web series Grahan goes over ground more fruitfully covered in Shonali Bose’s debut feature Amu (2005). Amu revolved around a woman whose parents were killed in the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi in 1984. In Grahan, a police officer confronts the possibility that her beloved father might have been responsible for slaughtering Sikhs and looting their homes.
The father, Gurusewak (Pavan Malhotra), appears to be Sikh himself, and has brought up his daughter Amrita (Zoya Hussain) in the Sikh faith. Yet, Amrita finds herself holding a photograph of her father, younger and clean-shaven, and leading a mob in Bokaro in Jharkhand. When did the religious conversion happen, and was it accompanied by a change of heart? Gurusewak’s refusal to discuss the matter with Amrita, also called Amu throughout the show, causes tensions between father and daughter.
Amrita stumbles upon the incriminating photograph after she is named as the head of a committee that is reinvestigating the violence. The chief instigator of the Bokaro chapter of the riots was Sanjay Singh (Teekam Joshi), who has since emerged as the main rival of Jharkhand Chief Minister Kedar Bhagat (Satyakaam Anand).
The series, based on Satya Vyas’s 2019 novel Chaurasi, has been created by Shailendra Kumar Jha, adapted by a minor army of writers, and directed by Rajan Chandel. The makers stir the pot until it bubbles over. Amrita’s investigation is stretched over eight interminable episodes. Grahan’s attempt to spotlight the underexplored theme of the deliberate targetting of Sikhs in 1984 is eclipsed by its inability to be crisp, focused and credible.
The narrative is split between the present and the past. In 1984, Rishi (Anshumaan Pushkar) is a factory worker with an Amitabh Bachchan haircut and matching anger levels. Rishi is easily swayed by Sanjay’s smearing of the Sikh community as terrorists. But his love for the Sikh woman Manu (Wamiqa Gabbi) causes him to rethink his attitude.
In the present, Gurusewak retreats behind a wall of silence as Amrita digs up uncomfortable truths about his antecedents. Amrita conceals her father’s involvement in the violence, essentially converting a public reconciliation exercise into a private mission.
The most poorly written character despite being the lead, Amrita inspires little confidence. Whether it’s her clumsy handling of a key witness or her inability to admit to a conflict of interest, Amrita is the naive and often clueless heroine that a subject of such seriousness doesn’t deserve.
The holes in Amrita’s investigation matches the gaps in the narrative. The unevenly paced series includes overstretched displays of courtship between Rishi and Manu in 1984 and cynical politicking in the present.
Just what is going on, the chief minister asks every now and then – a question that might cross the minds of viewers too. The frequent plot turns, including a last-episode revelation that boggles the mind, make for an uncomfortable fit with the sincere efforts to revisit the horrific violence of 1984.
Grahan picks up pace in its later episodes, as it finally inches towards solving the mystery surrounding Gurusewak and Amrita. The most affecting scenes in the efficiently performed show emerge from the painful confrontation of events that have been forgotten but shouldn’t be.
In the moments that revisit the demonisation of the Sikhs in Bokaro and elsewhere 37 years ago, the series reminds us that majoritarian politics is forever on the hunt for scalps, communal harmony is fragile, and justice is often delayed or denied. In its better moments, Grahan manages to suggest that the poison of bigotry never quite disappears but buries itself deep in the soil, waiting to be rediscovered and reused.