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Posted at: Dec 1, 2018, 2:32 AM; last updated: Dec 1, 2018, 2:34 AM (IST)

Bloody shots

The popularity of Narcos, Sacred Games and the latest one, Mirzapur, shows that the heady combination of drugs, crime and corruption is the new hit formula and that violence is welcome on screen

Aradhika Sharma

Murder. Blood. Gang wars. Gore. Killing. Greed. Lust. Anger and abuse. Streaming services have a smorgasbord of series and films that offer viewers a vicarious experience of these ignoble actions and passions, considered dishonorable and base in most civilised nations. Viewers, however, are lapping these up and panting for more. As they put their money where their interests lie, content providers get determined to provide viewers with cleverer criminals and quick thinking cops, murderous weapons and devilish motives.

Psychiatrists agree that crime serials are in the business that feeds on Schadenfreude, the German concept of people getting pleasure in others’ calamitous situations and sufferings, thanking their luck that it did not happen to them, or in the case of crime, it was not they who did it or those who got caught. It’s the same instinct that makes passersby stop and stare at road accidents, train wrecks or crime scenes. Complex emotions arise from violence and calamity, emotions which the crime genre is ready and willing to exploit, serving up a dark, dense fare of murder, fraud, extortion, serial killing, prostitution, drug dealing, gang wars, etc. to audiences that lap it up faster than it’s put on their plates. Intriguing true crime documentaries based on real events additionally enthral viewers, who know that the incredible story being recounted on screen is true.

Thus, we have series that we can stream, covering everything from cannibalism (Netflix’ The Santa Clarita Diet and Hannibal) to the rise and fall of international druglords and drug cartels (Narcos on Netflix, based on the story of drug super honcho Pablo Escobar, who became a billionaire through the production and distribution of cocaine) to counter-terrorism (Homeland on Hotstar) to espionage and international arms dealing (The Night Manager on BBC) to real-life events (The People v. O.J. Simpson) to science fiction crime (Westworld) on HBO. The last one is about amusement park androids that malfunction and begin killing visitors. Served with dollops of style and engaging A-list actors and directors, such series are now a staple on every streaming platform.

The prince of darkness

Anurag Kashyap, father of dark cinema in India, discovered years ago that people have a palate for crime shows. He cashed in on this fascination first in films, and then, in his 2018 Netflix series Sacred Games, which is all set to make a comeback with Season 2. Like other masters of crime series, Kashyap probably realised that people take pleasure in watching others’ misfortunes. Delving in the darkest recesses of the human psyche, he made films like Ugly, Gulal, Gangs of Wasseypur and Raman Raghav 2.0. Ugly is a dreadful story of the blackest depths human beings can sink to. So dark is the story that apparently he did not show the script to any of the lead actors. His Gangs of Wasseypur is arguably the father of gang movies set in smaller towns. Kashyap established himself as the master of noir films that culminated in Sacred Games. The six-part web series provided even a bigger canvas for his tortuous characters to wreak havoc in.

Made in India!

Kashyap, however, is not the only one who dabbles in crime. The latest entrant on the scene is Karan Anshuman, director of Mirzapur on Amazon Prime. The series is an answer to Sacred Games and has ace actor, Pankaj Tripathi. The nine-episode series is set in the Mirzapur town in India’s Hindi heartland, eastern UP. Despite all heady ingredients — drugs, arms, politics and corrupt law agencies — the series hasn’t received rave reviews because the story loses its plot early on. It’s just not authentic enough to satiate an audience who is quick to compare it with Sacred Games. There is an overdose of violence and abuses, but handled inelegantly it tends to repel rather than fascinate.

On the other hand, is the resurgence of the cult TV series Powder, which is at long last, receiving the well-deserved attention. The magnificent Pankaj Tripathi (Naved Ahmed Ansari) plays a notorious drug lord. He is pitted against Manish Chaudhury (Usmaan Ali Malik), who plays an officer of the Narcotics Control Bureau of Mumbai out to nab Tripathi. The common history of deprivation the two men share (they grew up together in the Mumbai slums) gives an extra fillip to their cat and mouse game. Powder had, in fact, debuted in 2010 on Sony TV but it did not make its mark. Eight years down the line, the limited series is back and has been given a platform by Netflix. Written and directed by Atul Sabharwal and produced by Yash Raj Films, the show is now back, giving the viewers a second chance to appreciate it. That it is highly rated on most portals makes it one of the must-watch shows at present.

Also getting its share of eyeballs is Breathe, an eight-part original series produced by Amazon Prime and directed by Mayank Sharma. Starring R. Madhavan (Danny Mascarenhas), who plays a father desperate to find a lung donor for his dying son, the psychological thriller also stars Amit Sadh (Inspector Kabir Sawant), who plays an unconventional cop. The two men find themselves on a collision course when the father is left with no other recourse but to turn into a serial killer to save his son. The show received average reviews but has made its place in the space of crime thrillers.

Also, in the running is Eros with the 11-part series, Smoke. It was the only one chosen to be showcased in Cannes this year. Set in Goa and portraying its criminal underbelly, it boasts of an eclectic and steller cast of Kalki Koechlin, Mandira Bedi, Jim Sarbh and the late Tom Alter. Then there is K Se Crime. The series based on real-life instances, looks at another grey chapter of rivalry from the hinterland of Uttar Pradesh.

Drugs, crime and corruption makes for a heady concoction. These are being offered in various ratios by almost all streaming giants. The web space is being abound with gore, blood, intrigue and power play — the more bizarre and grisly — the better it is!

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