Director: Ranjan Chandel
Cast: Pavan Malhotra, Zoya Hussain, Anshuman Pushkar
There are many films, shows and books which tell us about a traumatic time in history through the point of view of their protagonists. This way, a sinking ship becomes a metaphor of young love and a dictatorial regime becomes synonymous to a woman’s courage and resilience. By putting a face on a historical event, they make it real, and relevant. On the other end of the spectrum, is the risk of trivialising the said event.
The new web series Grahan starts off with a lofty goal, to talk about a family and a group of people who were the victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. However, by the end of all eight episodes, it only manages to distract the audience from the cause.
The show tells the story of IPS officer Amrita Singh, who tries to investigate the murder of a journalist, but faces resistance from her superiors. She is delegated to another case by the CM because he wants his rival defeated. Back in 1984, a man falls in love with a woman, but does not get the approval of her parents. He is later seen taking part in the riots. Unbeknownst to Amrita, everything is connected to her.
Grahan talks about the riots, but it also follows a police investigation in the present. It makes a statement about communal politics, and it also tries to uncover a mystery behind a father keeping a big secret from his child. It is a commentary on police corruption, but also talks about journalists being killed for asking questions. In the middle of it are hints of casteism and Islamophobia. The show tries to do too many things at once and falls short despite its best efforts.
It is also very convenient how one thing is connected to another. How the other case she is delegated is inadvertently connected to the murdered journalist. How the one photo her colleague finds of the rioters, features someone she knows. How when she goes to Bokaro (where the riots happened) she finds people who will not only help her case but also give her answers about her personal life. All the strings connect out of convenience and not because the makers are trying to connect them.
There are so many strings, so many players, that the characters that require the most focus are ignored. We see so much of the politics surrounding the riots, in both the last and present, that we forget about the ones who were affected by them. The only member from the affected Sikh family, who is fleshed out, is the daughter Manu, but only because she is our protagonist’s object of affection. This, unconsciously, trivialises the event itself.
However, despite all its shortcomings, Grahan is not a boring show. In some parts, the show plays its hands too quickly, but it also saves some juicy parts to surprise the audience. Even though it lack focus, there are ample things to hold your attention. Each episode starts with a mystery and ends with a cliffhanger. There are a lot of fillers in between.
In terms of performances, Pavan Malhotra easily outshines all of his co-stars. He plays vulnerability so well, that despite his character having shades of gray, you root for him. Zoya Hussain has definitely performed better before, but it seems to be a problem with the director. Anshuman Pushkar displays his range in the series.
To summarise, Grahan might not be one of the path breaking web shows we are used to watching by now, but it is still watchable.