What is the story about?
Senior politician Devki Nandan, founder of the Jan Lok Dal, is tipped to be the country’s PM in the forthcoming elections, despite the wave of protests by farmers in Malakpur (against alleged land grabbing by the ruling JLD) giving the party some bad press. A university student who has taken an active role in the protest is suddenly put behind bars while two other protesters have been shot dead by the cops. Devki Nandan’s blue-eyed son Samar Pratap Singh is keen to take over from his father in the political arena, though his aide Gopal Das Munshi is easily the more experienced leader and obvious choice. A day before the poll results, Devki is poisoned to death, thereby making the contest for the PM’s chair even racier. To what extent would one go to attain power?
There’s no better and juicier takeoff point for a political thriller than the demise of a senior leader and the tension surrounding the announcement of his political successor. It’s a ripe situation for any storyteller to explore the lust for power where political calculations and monetary wherewithal overpower bloodline, friendships and any other equation at work. This is filmmaker Ali Abbas Zafar’s most ambitious (and evolved) work yet and one that explores a unique dimension of his storytelling repertoire.
Tandav is filled with ample real-life political references, though the ambition is to only ensure a sense of relatability and not be sensationalistic. One could see a Kanhaiaya Kumar in the VNU student leader Shiva Shekhar with the gift of the gab, the pivotal character Samar Pratap Singh is referred to as the ‘Sanjay Gandhi’ of the JLD party. The political manoeuvre at work after the death of a major national leader too dates back to several historic incidents. Some mistresses stake claim to power, there’s a conflict between stepbrothers and as a dialogue in the show says, most characters ‘are silent snakes waiting to pounce on one another’.
The initial episodes are delightfully woven. Besides the family drama, there’s enough zip in the proceedings exploring many layers beneath the sudden death of a popular leader. The narrative grip though doesn’t last as long as you would’ve wanted it to. The main issue with Tandav is its lack of focus – the intensity and tension in the storytelling are diluted amid a complex cobweb of subplots. While the viewer seems fully invested in the power struggle, the show suddenly diverts its attention towards the infighting plotted within the student body elections in a reputed university.
The link between the heated atmosphere in a university and the tension within JLD isn’t established with enough clarity. The equations between the umpteen number of characters, their murky pasts are distracting, to say the least – infidelity in marriages is a common link. In parts, the nature of the political game in Tandav too feels slightly simplistic. The writing doesn’t explore the everyday affairs of a political party all that well, there’s no shock/surprise value in the sudden shift of loyalties within the party. Beyond the choice of ministers in the PM’s cabinet, there are not many instances to showcase the political tact of the characters. The constant references to Chanakya Niti and Chandragupta feel a little too far-fetched.
Tandav is inherently watchable, but you feel more exhausted than entertained by the end of it. Ali Abbas Zafar makes it difficult for you to absorb the plethora of backstories and relate it with the various incidents in the show. The story is not entirely new either and the writer’s understanding of the political space seems slightly restrictive and limited. Tandav is a middling political thriller salvaged by the solid performances of its stellar cast.
Saif Ali Khan is a terrific choice to play a middle-aged man with a political lineage, consumed by his greed for power. His underplayed performance offers you a peek into the character’s shrewdness, his composure in the hour of uncertainty. Complemented by the terrific styling and understated dialogue delivery, Tandav is another reason why you need to celebrate the variety in the actor’s filmography.
Tigmanshu Dhulia plays the patriarch of the family and his political party effortlessly with his pauses and the mystery in his body language ensuring enough intrigue. Zeeshan Ayyub is finally getting what he deserves as an actor. Despite the role being modelled on a real-life figure, the actor owns the part with impressive conviction. Dimple Kapadia is a delight to watch even though her role lacks sufficient bite; the same holds true for Kumud Mishra.
Sarah Jane Dias, Gauhar Khan, Kritika Kamra, Dino Morea, Anup Sonii are passable but don’t rise above the limitations of their half-baked roles. Sunil Grover is decent while giving many a mysterious stare through the show, being the trusted henchman of a political family
Music & Other Departments
Julius Packiam makes the most of the show’s tense mood – neither overplaying nor underplaying and doing just enough to enhance the impact of the intriguing situations. International cinematographer Karol Stadnik embellishes the show with his rich and imaginative visual palette that works both individually and holistically. The costume designing through the show is top-notch and provides the necessary regal touch to the proceedings. The writing needed more focus and depth and the coherence of the show goes for a toss occasionally.
- Superb performances
- Solid premise
- Technically superb
- Needed more depth and focus in the writing
- Loses bite after a stellar start
- Too many sub-plots, perplexing screenplay
Did I enjoy it?
Do I recommend it?
For those who enjoy political dramas