“Abhay”… A moody crime series headlined by Kunal Kemmu’s composed central act!
Think of filmmakers who often make a gigantic splash, only to swiftly storm off the scene, without any rhyme or reason. Unlike Sarfarosh’s John Matthew Matthan, Ken Ghosh’s debut (Ishq Vishk) might not have been a splash in entirety but, personally, the film was one that left a lasting impression on me – for its comic book-like appeal and sheer freshness oozing out of a very familiar template. As I happened to stumble upon the Episode 8 of ZEE5 original series Abhay, it was the director’s name that struck me hard. Additionally, the series is headlined by Kunal Kemmu who essays the title character of SP Abhay Pratap Singh. Kemmu is one actor that an average (and aware) cinephile in India would want to see more of. Having bagged only a handful of films to showcase his impeccable mettle, the actor is one whose best is yet to come. Kemmu’s presence was the other prominent reason why I ended up exploring this ZEE5 original series.
When it comes to starting off a series midway, there are certain obvious cons to deal with. You are not aware of the background details and the character development processes per se. Then again, if the segment was robust enough to hold your attention, you can any day go back and retrace it from the beginning. The episode 8 of Abhay starts off with a man named Govind (played by the ever-reliable but underused, Namit Das) being shot point blank by a woman. It is soon understood that the man behind the shooting was Abhay, an investigating cop whose son Sahil was held captive by the victim. In the following scenes, the episode creates intrigue around an ongoing case where the Uttar Pradesh police are on the hunt for a man nicknamed ‘UP ka Kasai’ (translates to ‘The Butcher of UP’). Abhay’s personal equation with Natasha (Elnaaz Norouzi), the woman who shot Govind, stands somewhat established in the succeeding portions. The episode leads to a thunderous finale as it closes on a note that would make us want to look forward to the rest of the series or to revive it from the beginning if one already has not.
Exceedingly well performed, Kemmu’s casting stands justified as the actor lends gravitas to Abhay who is not the routine cop that one would see in within the usual cinema or television spectrum. He is vulnerable and is quietly eccentric as far as episode 8 of the series goes, making us want to delve more into his psyche and seemingly troubled past. Norouzi, who was last seen in Sacred Games, puts in an enticing show in what appears to be a tricky character. It was also pleasant to see Sandeepa Dhar as a senior cop who is tracking the whereabouts of the serial human butcher. Same goes for the talented Harsh Mayar who had left lasting impressions in Hichki and I am Kalam.
Post-viewing the eighth episode, I happened to track the preceding ones so that I could derive a better taste of Ghosh’s filmmaking style. The opening credits kick off with a score that is bizarrely generic – both for the genre (investigative drama) and the format (web series). Snazzily cut, it also gives us a glimpse of the issues that the series promises to cover, which includes homicide, slaughter, necrophilia, sadism and cannibalism among others.
The only problem that I felt with Abhay was prominent with the very first episode (co-directed by Kookie Gulati) which is needlessly gruesome. For an average viewer who might want the makers to ease him/her slowly into the series’ core intent, it would be an unpleasant choice to get past the amount of gore that the first episode contains. That said, the remaining episodes directed singularly by Ghosh fare considerably better in terms of atmospherics and also in finding a balance while projecting violent incidents that are inspired by real-life events.
With a definite regional flavour in place, Abhay also earns brownie points in setting a gritty mood as it brims with tension and a certain nervous energy that is essential for a series of this genre. I didn’t particularly mind the family angle that the series side by side as it has not obstructed the flow of the central narrative so far. Ghosh’s execution pattern, even though very conventional of the genre, is impactful to a very large degree. Several of the chases (Episode 6) are shot exceedingly well and so are the night sequences that are lit and edited with a pronounced sense of eeriness (Episode 4). Screenplay by Pushaan Mukherjee has its interesting bits in place whereas the dialogues (Alka Shukla, Ankana Joshi) are good but a bit too filmic in places.
Essentially striking with all the material it has in place, Abhay is one series that is worth exploring for those who dig the crime genre. Moreover, with the astonishing note that episode 8 ended at, I will be looking forward to the ensuing episodes. My only wish is that the makers keep the series crisp and do not extend it to a point where the plot-line begins to jar, especially as there is a personal subplot of the central protagonist that seemingly lacks in solid material to work upon. Let’s pass the baton over to Ghosh, Kemmu and team for a riveting finish.
Abhay is a ZEE5 Original series that premiered in February 2019 and the latest episode released on 1st May as seen on the platform.