There is nothing about Ali Abbas Zaffar’s Tandav that makes it stand out amongst its peers in the fledgeling world of India’s web shows. For starters, it has none of the cinematic grit or the powerful writing that shaped politically-charged Indian crime thrillers like Paatal Lok and Sacred Games. Nor does it offer a palette of well-fleshed out characters present in trailblazing productions like Mirzapur and Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story.
Instead, this Saif Ali Khan-starrer is riddled with cliched tropes and larger-than-life figures. The first five episodes made available for review, rather than effectively setting up a power-packed political drama, provides a glimpse at the project’s lost potential.
At the heart of the show, runs two parallel stories. One is of Samar Pratap (Saif Ali Khan), who is an up-and-coming political leader. He is hell-bent on replacing his father and the three-time incumbent Devki Nandan (Tigmanshu Dhulia) as India’s Prime Minister. The other follows campus activist Shiva (Zeeshan Ayyub), who is on his journey to becoming a popular student leader, by mobilising popular support against the status quo.
Both of them are faced with insurmountable challenges. In Samar’s case, it’s his disapproving father, and in Shiva’s, the brutality of the local police. They soon cross paths in a culmination of their story arcs and the result thereof sums up this Amazon Prime Original.
And yet, as simple as it may sound, the show’s plot is anything but. The convoluted screenplay by Gaurav Solanki robs Tandav of its element of believability. Attempts at covering the farmers’ protests and student demonstrations seem heavy-handed, lacking the intricate attention to detail necessary in formulating a realistic depiction of such events.
From its inception, it becomes clear that Tandav‘s focus is not on exploring the inner working of political power structures and mass movements, but on providing viewers with an endless assortment of cheap thrills unbefitting a political drama.
Nonetheless, Timangshu Dhulia dazzles as the all-powerful patriarch, wary of a son he can’t get on with. He lights up the first episode with his tenacious quips and boisterous dialogue delivery. So does Sunil Grover’s Gurupal Chauhan, who manages to establish himself as a menacing figure effortlessly, building an aura of unhinged notoriety around his character.
Zeeshan Ayyub looks convincing on-screen, but the writing for his character leaves much to be desired. His rendition of the student leader Shiva Shekhar comes across as a self-righteous humanitarian who can do no wrong. Sadly, there are no efforts made at using his character to make cinematic in-roads into the psyche of a young leader, which would have been a refreshing watch in itself.
They are further let down by Saif Ali Khan, who looks out of place as a man of privilege, despite hailing from a royal lineage in real life. Saif’s performance as a conniving rogue, hatching evil schemes for political invincibility, seem peculiar from the get-go. It exudes a unique brand of outlandishness, where he looks lost in a world of silly frivolities conjured up by the show’s creators.
Among the supporting cast, Dimple Kapadia’s Anuradha seems steadfast, even likeable, and her scenes with Kumud Mishra’s Gopal Munshi make for some of the best moments on the show. Despite that, Tandav manages to come across as a morbid exercise in mediocrity.
Its high-quality production values and deft cinematography partially redeems some of Tandav‘s shortcomings but does not hide the fact that its creators have bitten off more than they can chew.
At every juncture of its viewing, the viewers are actively influenced to think in a certain manner about its central figures and their escapades, stifling the organic growth of its characters and their story arcs, rendering the entire production with an air of incompetence which is hard to shake off.
To top it off, an unimpressive background score does little to salvage this production as it reverberates across small screens across the country, serving as a reminder for all Indian creators who want to try their hand at this genre, to tread with caution.
Tandav is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
Read our other reviews here.