Samantar Review: A One-Liner Concept that Goes On Too Long

Samantar Review: A One-Liner Concept that Goes On Too Long

What if you had control over your destiny? What if we had the knowledge of our present and how it affects the future? Would we be tempted by the notion that life could turn out exactly as we want, or if not so, at least be in the know of the little twists and turns, moments of truth, choice and free will, and be able to make the right decision? MX Player’s new Marathi series Samantar, based on the book of the same name by Suhas Shirvalkar, toys with the idea of how our fate is pre-destined. But the vulnerable protagonist of the story is faced with a tough choice when he realises he might not be the only one born with that fate.

Our story begins with Kumar Mahajan, a young working-class citizen being taken to visit a learned Swamiji to save him from his ill-fate. Kumar feels that he is constantly down and out on his luck but is still a staunch non-believer in the hocus-pocus of healers and readers. His closest friend drags him to a Godman, who just by one glance at Kumar’s palm, claims that he has seen such a destiny for another man. Forty years ago, Sudarshan Chakrapani came to him with the same query and Swamiji is well versed with what happened to him when he didn’t take his advice. At first, Kumar is sceptical but after Swamiji tells him some intimate details about his life, Kumar goes on a dramatic journey in search of Sudarshan Chakrapani, in the hopes that he can know what happened to him, and alter his fate accordingly.

Analysis:
On paper, and perhaps as a novella, the basic premise of Samantar sounds rather promising. If one is to look back at the handful of notable films in the past which deal with human decision versus predestination, we’d be surprised to find more than just a few which handle the subject in a way different from the usual schmaltzy spiel of living in the present and enjoying whatever life has to offer. In that context, Samantar had the opportunity to put forth a unique theological debate. Instead, this random encounter veers the story into a territory where it is confused as to whether it is a psychological thriller or a supernatural drama. 

Kumar almost abandons his family to find Sudarshan Chakrapani. But why? What is so special about sharing your fate with another? If we were given more insight into Kumar’s woes to establish a connection… Kumar does have one incident happen to him right in the beginning, and we can pity him for his lack of judgement, but does it warrant our empathy to the story enough to understand his obsession of fixing his fate? No. Still, given its concept, I can imagine someone doing a competent job establishing that resonance in a short film or even a movie. At nine episodes that hit the half-hour mark, this is too long a time to tell the story. The build-up is insanely long, the establishment shots border at an obscene length. And by the time Sudarshan is found and the big revelation surfaces, it is wrapped up hastily making the climax a terrible sense of dissatisfaction. 

Performances:
In terms of performances, there are barely a few characters in the show anyway but it isn’t moulded as an ensemble. The responsibility of carrying Kumar’s story is solely on Marathi superstar Swwapnil Joshi who plays the lead role. As expected from an actor of his caliber, he lends it some credibility. He does seem genuinely frustrated, angsty and bewildered amidst the bizarre serendipity of all that is happening around him. He has some violent outbursts in the beginning and a menacing mind-game interplay at the end, so he explores the spectrum. Samantar is, at the end of the day, Joshi’s fourth outing with filmmaker Satish Rajwade and it is evident that he is in his comfort zone. None of the other characters are written well enough for the actors to really shine through.

Drawbacks:
Samantar is Rajwade’s debut venture in the digital space, and to some extent, it really shows. Web shows work very differently than movies and to hold the viewer’s attention for the entire period, especially in the era of binge-watching, requires a very gripping screenplay. As mentioned before the plot is intriguing enough to start off with a bang. You will be genuinely interested in understanding where Kumar’s search is going, and how does Swamiji's prophecy seam in. But it takes just so long to get there. And when we finally end the journey, it makes zero to little sense as to why it was important in the first place. Some scenes are completely unnecessary and some of them stretched way too long. The climax is half-baked, and there is also an unnecessary twist at the end which may hint at the continuation into a second season.

Highlights:
The primary and sole strength of Samantar is the story it is based on, and if that’s the sole take away, I would suggest you try and find a copy of the book instead of watching the show. 

Music and Other Departments:
Throughout the show, there is an interesting interplay of light and shadow which are especially highlighted in the climactic sequence where Kumar and Sudarshan come face-to-face and tempt fate, both towards and against each other. The cinematography and production design of the show more than competent, giving it impeccable finish. Unfortunately, there are too many foundation-level mistakes in editing and writing, which make the show a bit shoddy. 

Did I Enjoy It? 
Not really. I wanted to solve the mystery but not quite at such sloppy pacing. I would have enjoyed it more as a short film. It was in my destiny to watch Samantar, and I have no control over my fate. 

Would I Recommend It?
As a strictly one-time watch. The story has promise and there are ideas aplenty from where it's trying to go, even if failing miserably on its way there.

Rating: 1.5/5 Stars


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