What happens when a commercially successful director Ali Abbas Zafar of Sultan and Tiger Zinda Hai fame debuts in digital space? Well, you get a series you can watch for sure as his flair for drama engages you from the word go.
But on the flip side he can’t move beyond the surface and what you see is what you get. Indeed, at a superficial level the political thriller that dares to tread into corridors of power works. The first episode itself sets the scene even though it is more of flight of fancy than leaf from actual political life. The embittered father-son relationship, the Prime Minister Devki Nandan (Tigmanshu Dhulia) and his ambitious aspiring beta Samar Pratap (Saif Ali Khan) could have been a perfect playground for a heightened emotional battle. Only, if the writer-director had not been in a tearing hurry to remove one.
Thereafter, its cat and mouse game between other players. And you bet there are quite a few. A whole game of chess is laid out there. Undeniably, the casting is great. From Dimple Kapadia who looks devilishly graceful as Anuradha Kishore to Gauhar Khan as Maithili who looks lovely and acts well too. Kumud Mishra as the political heavyweight Gopal Das gets his laughter and menace right. Saif is charmingly devil incarnate. Only his character sketch finds little justification thus hemming his potential as an actor. Why he suddenly decides to play a king maker, Chanakya as he calls himself, and of all the people finds his Chandragupt in student leader Shiva (Zeeshan Ayyub) is rather baffling. Much, of course, is intended to confuse you. The secret caller who spills part of the beans for instance is the mystery angle you would love to unveil. Only its no more than a tease. Besides, a conspiracy in which so many men and women are involved, can it be possible to keep it under wraps?
If you have seen political thrillers like House of Cards this one will barely pass muster. Yet, there is soemthing to keep you going. Sunil Grover as Gurpal for one, the ‘Dr Mashoor Gulati’ proves his versatility as an actor. With deadpan expressions he might say, “In the game of chess, pawns and wazirs get decimated first”, he stands tall amidst mighty kings and powerful queens. He holds the series and even gets to mouth some fine wisecracks. Galat aur sahi ke beech mein jo cheez aa kar khadi ho jaati hai use rajneeti kehte hai… only both he and the series veer more towards the sinful/sinister side.
The parallel between student politics and real political world could have been a fascinating analogy. But far too soon it is reduced to the lowest level. Murder and more murders and the series paints the political class with a thick brush dipped in shades of black. Instead of showing us their many layers, they come across as power hungry manipulative people who would go to any lengths to retain power. Indeed, such men and women do exist.
Only Zafar and the convoluted screenplay doesn’t make you see anything in new light. The chants of azadi azadi are no different from the ones we heard in real life only recently.VNU could well be JNU and its innocent students are easy fodder to fuel the ambition of powers that be. Tandav, however, lacks the fury as its name suggests and ends up being a filmy encapsulation, a mishmash of political events and figures we see around us. Yet, the series (streaming on Amazon Prime) with nine crisp episodes can be a watchable fare. Only don’t expect it to be even remotely insightful.