Platform: Amazon Prime
Original air date: 15/01/2021
Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Dimple Kapadia, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Kritika Kamra, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Sunil Grover
Director: Ali Abbas Zafar
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
First things first: I loved Tandav’s breakneck speed. The series has nine episodes and each episode is about 30-40 minutes long. The story unravels in the heart of Indian Politics, New Delhi, wherein we witness the declaration of results of a Lok Sabha Election and the initiation, election, and declaration of results of a University election. The drama draws its essence from the violent oscillation of power and the governing dynamics of the power struggle between different stakeholders as major and minor characters play their respective parts in the larger machinery that we call democracy today. We see power change hands violently until one stands tall over all other vanquished in the pursuit of the elusive mandate to rule.
Samar Pratap Singh (Saif Ali Khan) is the son of the present Prime Minister Devki Nandan (Tigmanshu Dhulia) and sees himself as the next prime minister of the country. But he knows that his dreams will never come true until his father, who views him as a potential tyrant, is somehow taken out of the equation. Anuradha Kishor (Dimple Kapadia) has spent her life being Devki Nandan’s muse but always far away from any real power. She has finally been able to convince Devki to appoint his cocaine addict son, Raghu (Paresh Pahuja) as the Defense Minister. However, the question remains whether it is enough for an ambitious woman like her or does her heart desire more. Shiva Shekhar (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), a charismatic student who is concerned only about cracking the UPSC examination, is somehow lured into student politics when he has to take on the system to save the life of one of his friends. Tandav is all about the drama that unfolds when the fates of this eclectic mix of characters and many others intertwine, affecting the balance of the greater game afoot.
As I mentioned before, Tandav has speed on its side. It is also undeniable that the plot had enough meat to keep me interested from the start to finish. While the plot does bring back memories of different series and films, it does have its own share of twists and turns added to the tried and tested narrative to invoke an element of surprise and also ensure that the audience is always kept guessing. I was impressed by the style and techniques that Ali Abbas Zafar incorporated to tell his story. The series follows the parallel track of student politics at the fictional Vivekananda National University (VNU) and the national political scene unfolding between Devki Niwas and the house of the Prime Minister and organically intercuts between the two. We see often the two tracks running into each other raising the stakes or affecting the outcomes of certain events and this makes the narrative breezy and enjoyable.
However, it did seem as if the timeline of the student politics was unrealistically hurried up to match with the exact timeline of events of the national political scene. Many viewers will not get this bit in the first viewing and then there will always be those who will not care too much about it and look at the series from a simple and straight entertainment perspective. In addition to the issues mentioned above, I also felt that the series suffered from not being able to deliver enough shock value in its final few episodes that were absolutely necessary for the series to score some much-needed brownie points. Also, there were multiple subplots and undercooked plot lines that never reached a crescendo or were just abandoned halfway through. While the series invokes our interest using events and tropes from real incidents like the JNU student protests and the nationwide farmer’s agitations, it never does justice to any of those plot points. There was at least one death that was never explained properly and I would go to the extent of saying that it didn’t make much sense.
The performances are one of the strongest points of the series. Saif Ali Khan is given a character that he has played all his life and knows his way around to the last emotion. He excels both in terms of how the character works but also adds his own little nudges to it that makes it even more enjoyable. Towards the end of the season, I found myself rooting for his Samar Pratap Singh when it was made clear in the very first episode that he was a maniac and a tyrant who should never be given any true power. Such is his likability and charisma that even when he was bullying a gracious lady, I cheered him on. It will be interesting to see how his character metamorphs in the forthcoming seasons.
Dimple Kapadia is terrific in a character that demanded a lot of grace and subtlety. I loved the variations in her expressions in moments when she won and lost to Samar Pratap on different occasions. It just said so much about the mental state of the character and was intriguing to watch. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub plays a character that cuts precariously close to the so-called “tukde tukde gang” leader Kanhaiya Kumar. While he brings his own rendition of the character and there isn’t an ounce of the Bihari Swag that Kanhaiya Kumar (especially his lingo) is known for, his character excels and proves to be interesting as the series progresses. Ayyub might be getting typecast doing similar roles but when the performance is this good, I am not complaining.
It’s only Sunil Grover who looks like a fish out of water in a character that he is evidently not comfortable playing. He looks menacing when he is quiet but the moment he opens his mouth and we hear his fake Haryanvi accent, things stop working for his character. He also doesn’t have the physicality to carry the kind of costume that his character is given and neither is he able to do justice to the fear factor that his character evidently extracts. I loved Kumud Mishra and his uncontrollable laughter in a minuscule role. I wish the makers had given him a longer essay as he was highly entertaining. Kritika Kamra, Sarah Jane Dias, Gauhar Khan, and Shonali Nagrani do well in small but significant roles.
Overall, I don’t understand the furious critical backlash that this series is receiving as I was entertained by it. The trailers never raised any serious expectations for the series for me and the end product proved to be satisfactory enough. Yes! There are issues with the logic, timelines, executions, and the scale of the payload that the story delivers by the end of all the hue and cry but the series never stalls or drags. The performances are engaging and the execution has enough finesse to keep the audiences interested. I don’t think I could have asked for anything more from a series like this that looked repackaged from the get-go.
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