MXPlayer has recently announced a political satire with a big-budget and a star-studded cast to be directed by Prakash Jha. The show, which is based on true events, goes into the interiors of a part of north India to tell the story of power and intrigue. This show is yet to be released. What is what the prologue? Well, if they had used their resources wisely, Bhaukaal, which sounds like this very description, would boast of that level of talent and expertise as well.
Mr Jha is one of many filmmakers, which also include Anurag Kashyap and now a few others, who have explored the arena of hard-hitting socially conscious dramas. Back in the 2000s, with films like Gangaajal, Apaharan and Raajneeti, Jha had developed an auteurist style and unique voice where we knew that if the film had the following - a gang leader in small town UP, a personal motive of prestige for the protagonist, and men spouting expletives with every breath - it would be him. Watch Gangs of Wasseypur 1 and 2, that shifted to Kashyap. A while ago, Amazon Prime produced Mirzapur based on similar themes. If Mirzapur had a Gangs hangover, Bhaukaal is a Mirzapur wannabe.
Based on true events that took place in Muzaffarnagar UP, Bhaukaal tells the story of the fictional version of non-fictional police officer Navneit Sikhera (here his name is changed to Naveen) who is promoted to the region's SSP. Soon after arriving, he is embroiled in a local mafia war to gain control over Muzaffarnagar. The menacing and vile Shaukeen controls one part of the city while the somewhat comical Dedha brothers rule the other. How Naveen teams up with his officers to eradicate crime from this region, is what forms the rest of the story.
Forget the rich lineage of aforementioned crime dramas, if you're even remotely familiar with the 'tough cop after a key bad guy' trope in Bollywood, Bhaukaal may seem like a tired destitute distant cousin of anything you saw as a child. Now being familiar with the real Navneit Sikhera's story, I feel he has been done a huge disservice.
Off to a slow start, Bhaukaal establishes its setting very early on and how powerless the system is in a place like Muzaffarnagar (Naveen, tumse naa ho paayega). It's a tough cookie to crack and with predictability galore, still our hero is able to find and destroy the enemy. With ten episodes, it's the show job to present us something albeit derivative, but still slick, gripping and interesting. Unfortunately, there is no twist or turn which we cant see from a mile away, no character who evokes sympathy, and no moment to hold on to. It is only somewhere near the climax when Naveen starts strategizing as to how to completely break Shaukeen's support system one by one when you might feel the momentum picking up, but by this, you're too bored to care. The entire show feels like it isn't just set 20 years ago but made 40 years ago with abuses that feel unnecessary (some actors are clearly uncomfortable saying them), cringe-worthy dialogue baazi and a dated aesthetic.
After leading a mainstream TV show, and his memorable appearance in Uri: The Surgical Strike, lead actor Mohit Raina leads Bhaukaal with a perfectly decent performance. There is restraint and stoicism. However, there is no great moment of epiphany or even the establishment of a human connection for us to root for him other than as a duty. Raina also doesn't get any worthy or memorable scenes.
Instead, the worthy scenes are all redirected towards veteran actor Abhimanyu Singh. And he does lend some gravitas to the villain in the beginning but has no real character arc to play with. There are some notable performances from amongst the smaller cast, which at least piques your interest a bit. However, it's not something that could carry the whole show forward.
Bhaukaal lacks any real technique in writing and depth in thought and sensitivity. The biggest flaw in its writing is that it establishes some connection to Shaukeen only to conveniently forget his existence for a few episodes in the middle. Characters have been written as possessing little to no common sense, in an era where access and opportunity tell you to be as gritty and realistic as possible.
Additionally, it is laughable the way in which women are introduced as a character integral to the show. There is Naveen's wife who is inconsequential, a journalist who could have been played by anyone, and Shaukeen's mistress Naaz's character who may seem important but is actually written as a convenient plot point.
Credit where it's due, Bhaukaal has some action scenes which might be appealing and a random Mithun Chakraborty throwback.
Music and Other Departments:
Bhaukaal has a laughably inappropriate and disjointed background score which doesn't align with the emotion of the scene. With all these expletives and brutal scenes of violence, it just seems that more attention could have been paid into writing something fresh and hook-worthy as opposed to trying to look like something which is anyway trying too hard.
Did I Enjoy It?
Not really. I was severely bored throughout most of it and felt the urge to fast-forward through several times.
Would I Recommend It?
No. I don't see any value in the existence of Bhaukaal except the following - a) it is based on a truly inspiring person on whom I wish a better show/movie could have been made, and b) its random and bizarre dialogues make for premium meme content for social media.