What is the story about?
Inspector Virkar, a no-nonsense officer, starts investigating the murder of Raj, a guy who might have been supposedly killed by his girlfriend Sagarika. As Virkar looks for clues in his pursuit of Sagarika, the body count keeps rising, and Virkar stumbles into a deadly maze of sexual exploitation, blackmail and murder. As people keep getting killed, Virkar races against time to find out the mastermind behind this racket.
I'll make a confession here. I actually enjoyed the first episode of MX Player's new series Chakravyuh. The writing is gripping, the handful of characters shown in the episode have their own quirks which can somehow get on your nerves at times but are largely bearable, and the initial sliver of the premise is intriguing. The only sore spot in the episode is Prateik Babbar's protagonist, Inspector Virkar. We never know his first name, and what he, and the show, try to project on the screen as simmering machismo, is basically growling in a low-pitched, flat tone.
At this point, I thought that this was going to be one of those shows where the writing and direction are so strong that the flaws in the lead performance could easily be overlooked. Yet, from this point, the show confoundingly proved me wrong: Babbar's Virkar actually grows on you, while the show veers off the rails as far as logic and technique are concerned. The source material cannot be faulted: as far as crime fiction goes, bestseeling author Piyush Jha's The Anti-Social Network is a pacy, gripping read. But the creative minds behind this series end up butchering the spirit of the novel while translating it to the screen. The writing team--Karan Shah, Chaitanya Chopra and Kailash Surendranath--end up resorting to contrivances to take the story forward, and it looks really bad. Since this is a tech-focussed thriller, terms like "dark web" and "crypto-currency" are bandied around, and there is an entire aspect to the story revolving around "Social Coin", which is obviously a reference to BitCoin or Dogecoin. However, these aspects are never fully fleshed out, and it does not help matters that the performances are also nothing notable. Director Sajit Warrier tries to make the most of a bad situation, and there are certain sequences which he directs with aplomb, but he is really hamstrung by the material he is given to work with. The premise of this show was terrific, but one must ask the makers: how did they fluff it up from that opening episode?
Apart from Babbar, the only other performance of note would be Gopal Datt, who provides wry comic relief as the pizza-loving forensicologist Sinha. Otherwise, the rest of the cast is ordinary. Simran Kaur Mundi piles on the melodrama as college counsellor Naina, who Virkar falls in love with. Shiv Panditt is okay as the antagonist Roy. Ruhii Singh hams it up as the beleaguered Sagarika, while Anjali Sivaraman is alright as Virkar's colleague, IP. Ashish Vidyarthi's ACP Wagh is a character he sleepwalks through, while the late Asif Basra chimes in with a cameo as Raut, an officer investigating Virkar.
Music & Other Departments
If this show has any positives, it's all on the technical side. Hari K. Vedantam's camerawork conveys the urgency of the story beautifully. There is a certain lyricism to the way he shoots the chase sequences. Faizan Hussain's score is bombastic and over-the-top, which is suited for a show this campy. Bhupesh Micky Sharma's editing is decent. Priti Gole's production design is alright.
The opening episode is solid. But I'll also single out the sequence at the nightclub at the end of the fourth episode.
The performances, apart from Babbar, are nothing to write about. The sort of acting that is on display would've worked better in a theatrically-released film, but it does not translate well in the OTT space that flourishes in subtlety.
Also, there are glitches in screen continuity. In one scene, Virkar tells IP to hack into the Social Coin account of a key character, which gives you the impression that he knows a thing or two about how it works. And yet, a few scenes later, Virkar asks her on the phone what Social Coin is, almost as if the prior conversation never happened.
Did I enjoy it?
I enjoyed certain sequences here and there, but felt that the final show was a letdown.
Do I recommend it?
If you're used to switching on the TV and let a dubbed movie play for hours while you do something else, this show belongs to that category of content. Of course you can watch it once for Prateik Babbar.