ALTBalaji’s Cartel (2021) Review: Drama and Violence

Cartel is an action-drama series starring Supriya Pathak, Ritvik Dhanjani, Pranati Rai Prakash, Tanuj Virwani, and Divya Agarwal to name a few of the 137 ensemble cast members. There are 14 episodes.

ALT Balaji’s official description reads:

The Cartel web series is a tale of the gangland. Khan, Anna, Gajraj, Angre, and a mysterious bookie-cum-movie producer are the low-profile mafias in the city of dreams. For years, these five powerful gangs have survived the underworld without a fuss only due to one iron lady, Rani Mai. But, what will happen when Rani Mai is on her deathbed? Will these gangs continue to play by her rules? Or will her accident lead to their fallout in the Cartel?

– Trigger warning for suicide, slight animal abuse, NSFW content, blood and gore –

– The Cartel review is based on the initial 8 episodes and does not contain spoilers –

As can be expected from a series called Cartel, there’s a lot of murder, sex and profanities. As can also be expected from a series called Cartel, we spend almost the entire first episode knowing the various people who will play an important part in this 14-episode long series.

The first thing I noticed in Cartel is that every character in this series talks very unrealistically. Not one person would talk to anyone like this, ever. Another weirdly annoying thing is the exposition dump – we get to know all of the gangs and their backgrounds from a news panel.

Anyway, the story starts when Rani Maai, the head of the Angres, is shot. Her three sons are boiling with rage, of course. The rest of the series is figuring out who shot her… among other things.

Now, listen, I like a good gang series like the rest of you all. They are usually fun and thrilling, with lots of murders, blood and twists and turns. Cartel is similar, there are a lot of murders and a similar quantity of swearing. There are lighter moments in the series, and they are quite funny most of the time. Abhay and Madhu are the funnier brothers, while Major Bhau is the more serious of the lot – he’s clearly the brains of the three.

As Cartel goes down the rabbit hole, the tone is mostly casual and we get serious a few times. However, this shifting tone feels like a bit of a whiplash. I think that’s my problem with this series. There’s just more comedy than thrill. For most of the series, the thriller aspect of it goes on the back burner while we get to know how people are being invited to Riya’s birthday party. Don’t get me wrong, it’s funny, but it doesn’t really go with the title of the series.

Also Read: Aftermath (2021) Review: Decent Thriller Keeps It Going

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ALTBalaji's Cartel (2021) Review: Drama and Violence 6

Now, if the goal here is to show the family unit, then they did it perfectly. The relationship between the family members and their banter is great to watch. It’s light, energetic and very fun. Add in some moments of conflict you have the perfect drama. But did Cartel sign us up to watch a drama? Probably not. Also, for anyone who’s a bit squeamish, there’s a lot of sex scenes. A lot. If you’re not into that, then steer clear.

Cartel introduces a myriad of plot points for us to pick through. Does it follow through with giving us a good ending to it all? Without giving spoilers, I’d just say that Cartel could’ve trimmed its runtime down quite a bit. However, its back and forth narration is nice to watch and isn’t too confusing.

Also Read: Netflix’s The Defeated Review: An Uprising of Power, Scandal and Crime

Some problems I have though – Ashwath Bhatt’s character, who is gay, rapes a guy and comedy music plays in the background. Even later on, when he tries to talk about these things to Sumi, there’s comedy music playing in the background again. Are men getting molested/raped funny? Are we expected to laugh? Moreover, women aren’t shown in the most positive light, with them getting mistreated and used to further the plot an awful lot.

Acting is really great throughout. Cartel is taken forward thanks to its great ensemble cast. Rithvik Dhanjani, Tanuj Virwani, and Jitendra Joshi, along with Girija Oak are so great as the family members that sometimes I forgot that they are members of a gang.

Summing up: Cartel (2021)

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ALTBalaji's Cartel (2021) Review: Drama and Violence 7

Cartel is a fun watch and keeps you entertained with its fun family banter.  As a thriller though, it falls a bit short, though I’d say that they really did try. I was mostly invested in the story but was more invested in the family drama. Take that for what you will.

Cartel is streaming on MX Player and ALT Balaji.

Also Read: A Faraway Land (2020) Review: Love at First Sight and Stuff

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REVIEW OVERVIEW

Overall

SUMMARY

ALTBalaji's Cartel is decent and entertaining. I'd watch the family drama part of it any day.

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