Directed by: Anubhuti Kashyap
Written by Dibya Chatterjee, Anirban Dasgupta, Sourav Ghosh
Cast: Gulshan Devaiah, Robin Das, Anajali Patil, Heeba Shah, Jamie Alter
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
Afsos is a wacky & entertaining marriage of tragedy and comedy.
The first shot of Afsos is an extreme close-up of Nakul’s face, as he lies on a railway track, awaiting the train which would bring him what he craves for; death. Slowly, the camera zooms out revealing more of Nakul, as his proportion on-screen shrinks. That’s how Afsos works too. The 10-part series, which begins as a character study, departs from its delianative obeservation zone and dwells into the caper, rather hastily. It is at its best when the narrative focuses on Nakul, but even in totality, it is engrossing for the most part, if not brave or path-breaking.
Gulshan Devaiah’s embodiment of Nakul is such that it’s strenuous to separate the character from the actor. His face has pity written all over it, yet you can’t help but laugh at him despite knowing his sorrow-filled story. Does it reveal something about me as a person? The way we perceive a tragedy defines our character? I guess the show throws these questions at us and it is arduous to dodge these questions after the show is over. Going back, Gulshan Devaiah’s facial expressions play a critical part in adding the quirkiness. Nakul is devastated, with no spark to live, he is guilt-stricken, putting in his own words, a self-proclaimed loser who never saw success; but when the melancholy of Nakul’s life marries the peculiarity of Devaiah’s acting performance, it redefines the flavor of the show in its entirety.
The show stands true to its dark-comedy genre. Although it’s quirky to a major extent, there are a couple of dark speckles that come off as a shock and remind us that the story could take dark twists if we confound the heavy theme it chose with light nature it is treated with. Mortality being the story’s core-theme, conversations about death are neatly woven not just for the sake of it but they sound organic considering the scenarios the characters are put in waft death.
As I said, the story which begins as a deep study of a person’s life soon has half a dozen characters – most of them interesting – thrown in and it is a Priyadarshan-style caper, with Nakul being only a part of the madness. Halfway through, and it is not just about Nakul anymore. We have Fokatiya baba from Uttarakhand, who serves as a loyal sidekick to Nakul, Shloka Shrinivasan, Nakul’s therapist and unusual love interest, Ayesha Mirani, a journalist who weaves together the various sub-plots of the story, a British scientist Goldfish, who speaks better Hindi than English, Jim(a terribly underused Danish Sait), a Russian tourist, Karima, who runs an agency assisting in suicides, and the best of all, Upadhay, the hitwoman who is on a contract to kill Nakul. Heeba Shah brings in a lot of depth to the character which appears as just another killing machine. She is the most well-developed character in the show after Nakul. She is given many traits, let it be painting or her knowledge of the music and literature, a very well written character who solely keeps the stakes high.
The major issue of Afsos is that the plot becomes the sub-plot and the what appears to be a sub-plot apparently metamorphoses into the main plot. I wanted more of Nakul. Yes, he still is the center of this, but a lot of the proceedings detach Nakul from the narrative, which seemed like a wasted opportunity when you have a terrific character. Tapping on Nakul’s full potential could have been a treat. Also, a show about mortality takes the concept of death too lightly. None of the deaths actually matter! Let it be a faceless Sudarshan, who dies instead of Nakul for a petty mistake, or even the body count in the police vs bad guys shoot-out, where the police officer is asking for a count from his subordinate. Who replies,
“Unke 10, humare 8”,(Their score: 10; Our score: 8)
Few gunshots later,
“unke 8, humare 7”(Their score: 8; Our score: 7)
Here, the numbers represent the number of people alive. The dead are, well, just dead. The show never focusses on the consequences of death. Like Shloka puts it, death is not about the one dying, but about the one who is left to deal with the dead one. The impact, though, is never explored. But is the show is not striving to be realistic? No. It is a comic-book adaption of a comic book that doesn’t exist. Afsos, at times, asks us to suspend our disbelief for our own payoff. And it does payoff.
The show exhibit its full potential in the ‘Cafe Granny’ sequence which begins as a rescue operation that takes unexpected turns, all in the proximity of the show’s best characters Nakul and Upadhay, while simultaneously being shocking and funny. That is the essence of Afsos. This sequence brilliantly articulates what the show strives to be. More of such writing would have amanded the show from its current form- entertaining to unprecedented Indian show.
Afsos has a trunk full of great ideas, an agency that helps you that “assists” one commit suicide, a tragic hero whose tragedy makes you laugh, a deadly hitwoman, and scientists on the pursuit of ‘immortality elixir’ among others. But for the most part, they appear partitioned instead of one whole piece.
Nevertheless, Afsos is a wacky & entertaining marriage of tragedy and comedy, which is its best when it is about Nakul, which it is for the most part.