The first thirty minutes of Mirzapur dish out thrilling flavor samples for a first taste with a seasoned chef. The delicious ingredients aka the key cast are introduced with careful precision in the first episode by writers Karan Anshuman, Puneet Krishna and Vineet Krishnan. We meet each character, significant or minor, except Golu (Shweta Tripathi). Golu comes later, but she stays with us. Flawless and fearless, she is much needed soft, strong female energy in the next eight episodes not only for her clear conscience, providing relief from the macho, ruthless reality of the show, but also for her desire and free expression.
Some character journeys are predictable but most of them deviate, surprise, and conquer with finesse. Casting is perfect in this slow-cooked, gripping crime feast set in a fictitious-real world which runs into a total of 421 minutes.
Set in the Purvanchal region of Uttar Pradesh, the only law of this land is guns, drugs, rivalry, crime and power. Backed by taut screenplay and brilliant performances, the bar is set to the sky from the start and delivers right up to the racy, breathtaking finale. Mostly shot in Mirzapur, it also scores high on authentic locations.
The opening scene introduces the main antagonist Munna (Divyendu Sharma), man-child brat of local don Akhandanand Tripathi aka Kaleen Bhaiyya (Pankaj Tripathi), setting the tone. Staring into the camera, Munna barks ‘Kaleen Bhaiyya – King of Mirzapur’ after a snort of cocaine. His next sentence is “To hum kaun hue… Prince”. (“And who am I… Prince”.) Next, second antagonist Kaleen Bhaiyya is introduced in a chilling scene where he watches stone-faced as a faulty gun, manufactured by his factory, explodes in his customer’s hand.
Protagonists Guddu (Ali Fazal) and Bablu (Vikrant Massey) are introduced in a classroom, giving a sense of their life, dreams and moral fiber before life takes a U-turn. They are plonked with the dilemma of choosing a path with no return. Their decision plays a big role in setting the direction for their own lives, as well as events that follow.
An upright lawyer Ramakant (Rajesh Tailang) picks a prickly legal case, setting forth a chain of events. His commitment to justice for a murdered groom stands tall despite obstacles. His wife Vasudha (Sheeba Chaddha) is not happy with his truthful choices.
While the men are out playing with guns, the women get naughty. Golu is as comfortable masturbating in a library, with books for company, as she is trying to score votes on college elections. Her older sister Sweety (Shriya Pilgaonkar) has her eyes set on Guddu and his muscles. Then there is Beena Tripathi (Rasika Dugal), Akhandanand’s wife, who is consumed by her sexual desire as her husband is unable to satisfy her. Vasudha is dazzled by power and riches. Dimpy (Harshita Gaur) is spunky but cast as the proverbial sister, which is disappointing.
There are choices and then there is that one choice which comes with consequences. Every moment is an ominous one for Guddu and Bablu, keeping you on the brink. I usually avoid movies with pointless violence. Although come to think of it, isn’t every violent act pointless? What Mirzapur does extremely well is break violence into slices, amalgamating it into everyday life so mundane and real it is terrifying.
The story is pretty stock standard but the fresh perspective of its narrative is what gives Mirzapur its edge and quality stamp. Some scenes are designed to make audiences squirm, while others are paisa wasool on their entertainment value.
The writers are aided by a cast that live and breathe their characters perfectly. Divyendu conquers the messy, complex, layered Munna with finesse: his shifty body language, reckless behaviour, crazy streaks, and dark emotions blend into a powerful turn almost reminiscent of good old Gabbar. Ali charms as the soft and unpredictable Guddu – he wears his innocence like a burden even as his character peels it off bit by bit, with the shifting goal post. Vikrant is excellent as the sensitive, practical Bablu caught in a vortex of descent. Pankaj plays the measured evil don with panache. Veteran actor Kulbhushan stays in the background, occupying his wheelchair with the confidence of an assured performer as well as patriarch. Amit Sial and Shahnawaz Pradhan are effective as cops on opposite ends of the spectrum of duty. Rajesh is effective as the keeper of justice, Ramakant.
Quite easily, Rasika and Sheeba shine as Beena and Vasudha. Rasika is laidback and spunky, voicing her sexual needs and opinion freely, her superbly balanced act lending grace to Beena. Vasudha is pushing boundaries of a different variety as she fulfils her material desires and tastes power for the first time. Sheeba plays her skilfully with candid innocence, as a woman who does not think beyond the corners of her family’s existence. Shweta packs a punch as Golu, in her delicate frame, every time she appears.
Mirzapur is definitely worth taking the roller coaster ride. Full of steep twists, it also has a thrilling climax that keeps you on edge until the last second, leaving unanswered questions for season two. Bring it on…
4 out of 5
Mirzapur. (2018- )Writers: Karan Anshuman, Puneet Krishna and Vineet Krishnan. Director: Karan Anshuman, Gurmmeet Singh, Nisha Chandra and Mihir Desai. Players: Rasika Dugal, Pankaj Tripathi, Shriya Pilgaonkar, Ali Fazal, Shweta Tripathi, Vikrant Massey, Amit Sial, Divyendu Sharma, Shahnawaz Pradhan, Rajesh Tailang, Sheeba Chaddha, Harshita Gaur and Kulbhushan Kharbanda. Prime Video Network Release: Excel Entertainment
Hamida Parkar is a freelance journalist and founder-editor of cinemaspotter.com. She writes on cinema, tv, culture, women, and social equity.
This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain.