Overview:

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The early 21st century will be remembered as an era of vindication – of Me-Too movements and Black Lives Matter, and a reopening of old wounds with a reawakened passion for justice. The web series Grahan (based on Satya Vyas’ bestselling novel Chaurasi), seems to have been made with just such a notion: it covers the 1984 riots which targeted the Sikh community, after the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her two Sikh bodyguards.

Grahan has an absorbing plot which is presented in real time, interspersed with a series of flashbacks to 1984. A Sikh IPS officer Amrita Singh (played by Zoya Hussain) is put in charge of a reopened investigation into the riots in Bokaro, where Sikh businesses were looted, and Sikh families were slaughtered.

In the process, she stumbles upon an old photograph of her father which resembles that of one of the main instigators of the Bokaro riots—her father is clean shaven in the picture. As Amrita starts following the trail of clues and interviewing those who are still alive, a gory picture of the dad she adores, emerges.

Amrita’s investigation, and interviews with survivors and suspects, forms the main thread of the narrative; the usual cast of evil politicians appears and interferes in traditional Bollywood fashion with the process. The main instigator of the riots in Bokaro, not unsurprisingly, has become an important minister.

Nandish Singh Sandhu in Grahan

All these threads are held together by sepia-tinged flashbacks of her father’s 1984 romance with her mother. Amrita has always been told that her mother died when she was very young. As we go deeper into the series, clues to what really happened to her father and mother in the 1984 riots are sprinkled awkwardly here and there and played out in a melodramatic fashion, to the mournful wail of violins, as each new revelation about her father points to him being a murderer.

The series is absorbing at first, and all the actors do an excellent job of holding one’s attention. The flashbacks to 1984 and the romance between Amrita’s parents, which is quite delightfully portrayed, breaks up the heaviness in the rest of the narrative. Anshuman Pushkar as the young version of Amrita’s father, and Pawan Malhotra as the defeated, guilt-ridden older version, are outstanding in their portrayals.

However, Amrita’s character as a police officer is particularly limp. Part of the blame lies in the script: the director decides to put melodrama to the forefront and kicks investigative authenticity to one side. Amrita is a sloppy detective, leaving vital clues around and allowing witnesses to be killed. After watching some really crisp and well researched detective shows like Delhi Crime, Zoya Hussain’s portrayal of an officer investigating a crime which may implicate her father comes across as yet another naive female disappointed by the men in her life, rather than a committed professional grappling with the ultimate dilemma—to protect her father, the presumed murderer, or deliver justice.

Grahan

The series climaxes with a shocking twist at the end, and the hook provided by the mystery of what really happened between Amrita’s parents keeps one glued, despite the many cliched scenes (a preachy one where Amrita lectures a crowd of Hindus and Muslims not to get provoked by politicians to kill each other).

The series tries to show how ordinary people can get caught up in the communal hatred and the madness of the moment, and it does that reasonably well, with some heavy handedness.

Its message is very relevant to the current state of India’s politics, where a Hindu- Muslim divide seems to have been flagrantly inserted into political rhetoric and everyday life.

Grahan is available to watch on Hulu and Apple TV.


Jyoti Minocha is an DC-based educator and writer who holds a Masters in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins, and is working on a novel about the Partition.

Images: IMDB Grahan


Jyoti Minocha

Jyoti Minocha is a DC-based educator and writer who holds a Masters in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins and is working on a novel about the Partition.