Once upon a time, Neeraj Pandey gave us movies like “A Wednesday” and “Special 26,” where he highlighted the issues of our society from a common man’s perspective and didn’t give the arms of the system (police, politicians, etc.) an easy way out. Through his movies, he forced these institutions to realize that there’s something fundamentally flawed about their core that they should fix before taking on the responsibility of controlling the general populace. But then “Baby” happened, and Pandey just lost his bite. His characters became infallible models, and the systems around them started getting brownie points for simply existing. And a thick coating of patriotism started to cover his perspective, something that was most evident in the TV series he helmed, i.e., “Special Ops” and “Special Ops 1.5: The Himmat Story.” With “Khakee: The Bihar Chapter,” it seemed like Pandey was ready to look inward again with the help of tangible, realistic human beings. Well, he has done so to a certain extent before falling back on his bland storytelling.
Created by Neeraj Pandey, directed by Bhav Dhulia, and written by Umashankar Singh, “Khakee: The Bihar Chapter” tells the “true story” of how Amit Lodha (played by Karan Tacker) caught Chandan Mahto (played by Avinash Tiwary). The show starts with one Ranjan Kumar (Abhimanyu Singh) taking his team of policemen to nab Chandan while the election results for Bihar are about to come out. When it seems like Ujiyaar Prasad (Vinay Pathak) is about to win, Ranjan gets the green light to arrest Chandan. But when the votes start going in Sarvesh Kumar’s (Nawal Shukla) favor, Chandan is forced to stop the arrest attempt. So, as the narrator, Chandan angrily turns back the clock to the origins of both Amit and Chandan to show us where their stories begin. Amit is portrayed as an honest cop with a dutiful wife, Tanu (Nikita Dutta), who will do anything and everything to implement justice. Chandan is portrayed as an ambitious, wife-less criminal who will stop at nothing to be the most wanted person in Bihar. And due to their polar opposite ideologies, they clash with each other.
To be honest, “Khakee: The Bihar Chapter” starts on an incredibly promising note as Dhulia and Singh show how intertwined politics, crime, law, and the plight of the ordinary person are. It shows that, despite this appearance of simplicity, Indians are inherently complex, duplicitous, adaptable, awkward, embarrassing, violent, and more. Those who are in charge of upholding law and order of a country, a state, or a district can succumb to their need for power and money. Those who are labeled as “criminals” can be a result of systemic caste-based oppression and the need to be viewed as equals by society. But after the third episode, Dhulia, Singh, and Pandey stop blurring the lines and make the whole thing way too black and white. Characters who show shades of corruption suddenly become righteous for no reason. Righteous characters resort to casual regression, and they are given a free pass with the excuse that the heat of the job must’ve gotten to them. Female characters become walking cliches. And the villains get really close to spontaneously growing a mustache and twirling it.
Given the state of the police in India, it’s already hard to accept anything at face value because it’s being told from the perspective of Lodha, the real-life person, and the character. But by making Ranjan Kumar the narrator of “Khakee: The Bihar Chapter,” Lodha’s underlying narcissism stands out very plainly. As if it wasn’t enough to show oneself as an incorruptible force of nature, he and the showrunners just couldn’t stop themselves from worshiping him from a third-person perspective. And the problem with idolizing someone and treating them with an insane level of reverence is that it impacts the storytelling in a bad way. Every scene portrays Lodha as a G.I. Joe action figure, thereby draining the action of any kind of tension because you just know he’s going to come out practically unscathed. Every moment of crisis is staged way too perfectly, despite the overall griminess of the various districts of Bihar that the show takes place in, thereby making Lodha so unrelatable. On top of that, there’s the score, which has to be played every time Lodha does anything, and it gets very old very quickly.
Despite playing it pretty safe, everything from the production design to the costume design, the sound design, the lighting, and the color correction is pretty competent. And despite the bad writing, the actors do their best to make the viewing experience somewhat worthwhile. Karan Tacker musters all the honesty, diligence, and sense of justice that he can extract from his soul and puts it on the screen. During the action scenes, he does most of it by himself, which includes running through narrow alleys, running over rooftops, and hanging from a car. The same can be said about Avinash Tiwary. He gives it all to Chandan and tries to unpack all the layers that he’s composed of, and then the layers of brown make-up (to make him look dark-skinned) come in between you and Tiwary. I mean, not casting actors from minority communities to play characters belonging to minority communities is an issue. But resorting to brown facing instead of casting dark-skinned actors is inexcusable. Aishwarya Sushmita and Nikita Dutta are fine. Annup Sonii, Jatin Sarna, Abhimanyu Singh, and Ashutosh Rana offer nothing new because what they do is just that good. Vinay Pathak and Ravi Kishan are in this show. The supporting cast is massive, and their work ranges from good to great.
During the concluding cop propaganda filled moments of “Khakee: The Bihar Chapter,” the showrunners essentially suggest that when the criminals don’t play by the rules, then the police don’t have to play by the rules as well. They say that the police don’t have to see that a criminal has become so due to the system, that they were born that way, or that they were used by politicians because, at the end of the day, they’ve to kill them. Going by a short story about a bully, the showrunners also insinuate that Lodha (the character, not the real person, because I don’t know the real person) is not as “goody two shoes” as he appears to be. Now, I don’t know what the showrunners were thinking while placing this flurry of problematic beliefs at the tail end of the show. But they inadvertently illustrate that the police are probably criminals in uniforms, and the profession needs an overhaul from the bottom up. The police have to play by the rules because that’s precisely the point of their job. They have to be held accountable because they usually look out for those in power and not the general populace. Most importantly, they’ve got to be deemed unfit if they’ve had a history of violent activities. And since this show doesn’t care about tackling these topics in a nuanced manner and is painfully boring, too, I can’t recommend it.