Dahaad takes on social fault lines 

Set in the barren, desolate landscape of Rajasthan, Dahaadan Amazon Prime series, explores caste, class, misogyny, sexism, relationships, and abuse, in an India in transition.  It also highlights the toll a demanding profession takes on the lives of the people working in them. 

This review contains minor spoilers. 

On paper, it is a simple plot

While investigating the case of a missing woman, sub-inspector Anjali Bhaati (Sonakshi Sinha) stumbles upon a perplexing clue. Tugging on the thread, she unravels a horrifying knot of 27 missing women, all of whom turn up dead under strikingly similar circumstances. With a likely serial killer on the loose, Anjali, along with the SHO Devi Lal Singh (Gulshan Devaiah) and SI Kailash Parghi (Sohum Shah) fight against time, bureaucracy, personal struggles, and immense physical and psychological pressures to bring the murderer to justice. 

Complex characters

Anjali Bhaati leads the investigation and is a rebel in every sense of the word. She does not conform to the traditional gender roles, doesn’t cower to authority, and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. She is stubborn and unrelenting. Her unwavering perseverance becomes the key to solving the case, even as everyone around her remains either skeptical or downright incredulous. But hidden under the tough-as-nails persona is a profoundly hurt woman who empathizes with the victims. Because like them, she too belongs to a lower caste, is a single woman in her thirties, and is pressured by her family and society to get married. 

Supporting her is her boss, Devi Lal Singh, a strait-laced policeman who wants to follow the protocol and stay true to his morals. But when he must choose between what’s morally right and what his orders are, he comes up with a novel solution to his dilemma. He is also a great father to his two children – a teen girl and a pre-teen boy. He does, however, struggle to be a good partner to his wife, Shivangi (Shruti Vyas ) as they are incompatible in more ways than one. 

The third member of the team is Kailash Parghi, a greedy, confused, and petty man who undergoes an existential crisis during the investigation. Something he did in his previous posting resulted in a demotion and put him in the same rank as Anjali, a fact that rankles him deeply. That Devi Lal trusts Anjali with the more complex cases is also a sore point for him. As the bodies of women pile up, his wife announces her pregnancy, throwing him into a state of panic where he starts to question everything. Eventually, he stumbles upon a secret that could land him the much-coveted promotion, but at a very steep cost. 

The villain next door

This image shows the actor Vijay Verma standing in from of a classroom blackboard, smiling. This is a scene from Dahaad. (Photo courtesy: IMDB)
Vijay Verma in a scene from Dahaad. (Photo courtesy: IMDB)

And then there is  Anand Swarnakar (Vijay Verma), a soft-spoken, charming Hindi professor at a women’s college. He is a popular teacher, a loving husband, and a slightly detached father. He spends his free time driving around in his mobile library, telling stories to underprivileged children, and spreading literacy. Anand has a complicated relationship with his father and younger brother. The father despises him and doesn’t hold back his barbed words. His younger brother is the apple of his father’s eye, and Anand is jealous of him. His brother, however, goes out of his way to try and get Anand to be an active member of the family. Anand is also a deeply disturbed individual. He is the killer the team is hunting.

Mature performances,  fleshed-out characters

Gulshan Devaiah portrays Devi Lal as a man with quiet strength. Lal understands both his strengths and his weaknesses and is not afraid of making hard choices. Gulshan displays a wide range as he plays the character to perfection. Even when he is silent, one can hear Devi Lal’s thoughts. The softness of his voice and mannerisms as he talks to his children, whether cheering on his daughter or having an honest conversation about sex with his son, is a masterclass in acting. 

Sohum Shah’s character, Kailash Parghi, is my favorite of the lot. Parghi is a deeply flawed man who doesn’t quite like the hand he has been dealt. Sohum gives Parghi a perpetually irritated scowl that deepens or dissipates, depending on the situation. Parghi does not often say what’s on his mind, which is a tricky thing for any actor to pull off. But Sohum Shah’s depiction makes it very clear what he is thinking. In the initial episodes, his shoulders are stiff, and his stance keeps getting stiffer as he goes deeper into the dark recesses of his mind. But once he makes a decision that he is at peace with, his stance is more relaxed, the scowl is almost gone, and he is a lot freer. 

Sonakshi Sinha, for the most part, does a good job. Hers is a very physical role, and she does full justice to that aspect of the character. She is running, jumping, climbing, and fighting, and those scenes look convincing. Sonakshi’s Anjali and her mother don’t see eye to eye; while her mother takes a passive-aggressive approach in trying to coax her daughter into marriage, Anjali is openly aggressive in her resistance. In a brilliant scene, Anjali bluntly tells her mother why her constant pressure is such a trigger. Where Sonakshi falters, though, is maintaining consistency in her accent. Her occasional slip-up becomes more pointed especially compared to her costars who nail it to perfection. 

Vijay Verma shines

The star of the show, however, is Vijay Verma. He is flawless as the monstrous Anand Swarnakar. In one second, Swarnakar is sweet, charming, and vulnerable. The next moment he is horrific and gruesome. Everything that Swarnakar does – be it serenading women, reading to underprivileged children, or begging his wife to stay – has a sinister air about it. As he orchestrates an accident, frames an innocent man, and rigs a piece of equipment to kill a man,  he never forgets to keep up his disarming persona. Vijay Verma plays this complex, abominable man with the skill and dexterity of a tightrope walker.  

A complex narrative well told

The creators Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti  – the duo’s creative partnership gave us some memorable films and shows like “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara”, “Talaash“, “Gully Boy”,  “Dil Dhadakne Do” and web series “Made in Heaven” – have deftly woven a tale of a man who treats women as objects for his gratification, and of women who keep their agency. Despite the macabre storyline, they have steered clear of gratuitous violence. 

Sumeet Arora’s dialogues deserve a special mention. In an era where the OTT platform is inundated with foul language, Dahaad doesn’t fall for it. 

I do wish there were more sweeping shots of Rajasthan’s landscape. 

The letdown

The biggest issue of the series though, is its climax. It is both unnecessarily drawn out and abrupt at the same time. Given how taut and concise the first six episodes were, the last two episodes seemed to falter. We are given an extended montage of Anand’s modus operandi, while not enough focus is given to the search. And then, in the final 15 minutes, the police find him, and he is arrested. The conclusion of the series is unsatisfying. 

Despite a weak ending, Dahaad is worth watching. It is a good series, backed by powerful performances, strong storytelling, in-depth characterization, and adept direction. 

Aindrila Roy is a stay-at-home mom with her fingers in many pies. She writes, reads, makes jewelry, sings, dances and is a huge Paleontology nerd. Her book, I See You, was self-published on Amazon. She...