Dahaad, an eight-episode thriller, will not let your attention waver
n eight-episode crime thriller series, released this month, is making waves on Amazon Prime. Dahaad, directed by Reema Kagti and Ruchika Oberoi, has a fast-paced plotline. It includes many brilliantly executed twists and turns that keep the viewer hooked; a mainstay of the crime genre.
The story, set in a small village in India’s Rajasthan state, revolves around a police inspector, Anjali Bhaati, played by Sonakshi Sinha. Bhaati is a member of a police team comprising SHO Devi Lal Singh, played by the acclaimed actor GulshanDevaiah and Rajasthan’s own Sohum Shah, cast as Sub-Inspector Kailash Parghi.
The web series opens with a rather unsettling scene. A woman, dressed in bridal finery, is foaming at the mouth and sprawled at an unnatural angle across the floor of a public bathroom.
The door is locked on the inside.The first hasty conclusion a viewer might jump to is that the woman has committed suicide. However, Inspector Bhaati digs into the case and tracks a series of disappearances and deaths that share a similar pattern. She figures out that these are not suicides but murders. Bhaati is certain that the women are being poisoned.
What is the motive behind the murders and how does the murderer make the deaths look like suicides? How does he choose his victims? Who is at risk? These and some other questions baffle the police team, keeping them on their toes throughout the season as they hunt for answers.
As the mystery deepens, Bhaati and her team focus mostly on the modus operandi of the killer. They conclude that the murderer is a predator who lures women from scheduled castes and working-class families.
The victims have more in common. As the viewers learn more about each victim, they can pick out common themes in their lives. The murdered women come from some of the most vulnerable segments of the society. Their families cannot afford to give them dowry so it is close to impossible to find a match for them. They are facing societal pressure because they are single.
The antagonist is Anand Swarnakar, played by Vijay Varma. He is a seemingly normal-looking man with a dark side.
Swarnakar has a wife and a son. He teaches Hindi literature at a women’s college. He is suave, educated and smooth and gives free lessons to poor children in the neighbourhood. He is also a serial killer and a psychopath.
Acting-wise, Varma does a convincing job. In the beginning, Swarnakar translates on the screen an individual who has the social skills and mannerisms to adapt to society and maintain the pretense of being an educated, harmless individual who would not even harm a fly but soon his peculiarities begin to emerge and there is a seam in the wall.
Swarnakar comes from a business family that deals in jewellery but the apple falls quite far from the tree for he prefers to adopt teaching as a profession. He also runs a mobile library which he uses as an excuse to spend his weekends in small villages and towns where he can lure more women and kill them.
As the story unfolds, the viewer discovers more unpleasant facts about Swarnakar’s background and his hatred for his family. He has always been at the receiving end of his father’s ire, who calls him the black sheep of the family. He is more of a scapegoat, however, because his father routinely compares him to his younger brother and tells him he’s useless. He also detests his father for a reason revealed later on.
Swarnakar entices women in their thirties. Leveraging the social pressure on them to his advantage, he convinces them to elope with him. Then, he spends a night with them at a hotel room.
Also in Dahaad, you will find a not-so-subtle critique of a system that puts immense pressure on women to ‘settle down.’ The success of a woman is gauged in this system by her role as a good wife and mother.
Later, he coerces his victims into taking what he tells them is a morning-after contraceptive pill but actually is a pill laced with cyanide.
Swarnakar’s character is inspired by real-life serial killer Mohan Kumar Vivekanand alias Cyanide Mohan who was convicted of murdering 20 women in 2013.
Vivekananad had preyed on vulnerable women who were unmarried, lured them into his trap and then killed them by administering a cyanide pill. He had then robbed them of their possessions and fled the crime scene.
A questions the police raise in their investigation is: how does Swarnakar obtains cyanide, a substance that is not easily available in India? Why does he have this extreme hatred for women?
While some of these questions get answered quickly, others remain unanswered till the end. The psyche of a serial killer, who is also human with so many layers to him, is the riddle Dahaad poses. The revelations are not easy to digest either.
What pleasure does Swarnakar derive out of poisoning these unsuspectingwomen? This remains a mystery.
All the actors do full justice to their roles, beginning with Sonakshi Sinha, who wonderfully pulls off the role of a competent and diligent sub-inspector facing discrimination because she comes from a scheduled caste.
Bhaati is not larger than life. She is real. She also has a nagging desimother who spares no opportunity to remind her that she is ‘still unmarried.’
Bhaati’s mother constantly hounds her and remains on the lookout for a suitable groom, but she drives them all away. Despite the criticism and the constant pressure to settle down, Bhaati remains unfazed and undeterred. She is determined to do whatever it takes to get her job done to the best of her ability.
SHO Devi Lal Singh, her superior, is supportive. He is willing to put up with her quick temper and aggressive personality. Singh is quick to realise that Bhaati is an asset to the police force and losing her would be a huge loss.
Sohum Shah is also convincing in the role of a sub-inspector. The professional rivalry and jealousy are captured extremely realistically. He is constantly massaging the ego of the DSP in order to attain a coveted promotion.
Even though Dahaad is a thriller that has become a ‘roaring success’ with fans of the genre, there is hardly any violence in it.
Anand Swarnakar is depicted as a passive-aggressive psychopath who harbours an intense hatred for women but also pities them. A testament to that is how he cannot see them suffer so he makes sure the deaths are as swift as possible.
As the series unfolds and the cat-and-mouse game begins, Sonakshi and her team work round the clock to nab the murderer.
This series sheds light on the caste system and how prejudiced men are against female police officers, especially officers from scheduled castes. It embraces intersectionality and shows us many sides of the coin by shedding light on the struggles of women who are up against the odds in a patriarchal society.
You also find a not-so-subtle critique of a system that puts immense pressure on women to ‘settle down.’ A woman’s success in the system is gauged in terms of her role as a wife and mother.
Without a dowry, there is no hope of finding a suitable match which is why all these women fall for the first man willing to accept them without a dowry. They see that as an escape from their problems, knowing nothing about the fate that awaits them.
Watch Dahaad for its fantastic story, mind-blowing performances and excellent direction. The admirable endeavour is guaranteed to keep you riveted. There is an even chance that you will be so engrossed in the story that you will forget your popcorn in the micro, so sort that out before you settle down to watch the series.
The writer is an educationist and can be reached at gaiteeara @hotmail.com.