Neeraj Pandey - the name has become synonymous in the last decade and a half with cat and mouse thrillers set in the world of law enforcement like A Wednesday ! (2008) or Special 26 (2013), or espionage like Baby (2015) and its spin-off Naam Shabana (2017). He brought that same steady hand to streaming with the Disney+ Hotstar series Special Ops (2020).
Under his banner Friday Storytellers, he has now produced for Netflix, the 7 episode series, Khakee: The Bihar Chapter. Based on real life incidents from the early 2000s and a book written by IPS officer Amit Lodha, Khakee stars Karan Tacker (Farooq Ali in Special Ops) as SP Amit Lodha. He is sent to Bihar for his posting with the usual mix of humor and pity send-off from non-Biharis about being sent to the boondocks. On his way in the train with his new bride, his self-righteous nature is put to the test in a hilarious manner. The first episode establishes this fish out of water narrative and how he gradually comes to grasp the milieu. It's encapsulated by one of his team members teaching him the difference between referencing oneself as "main" or as "hum" with the beautiful line, "Hum mein ek apnapan hai jo main mein nahin". Amit's superiors are a motley crew from the straight-laced DIG Sudhir Paswan (Anup Soni of TV's Crime Patrol fame), to the hassled SHO Ranjan Kumar (Abhimanyu Singh) who provides the voice over narration to the goings on, to the delightfully survivalist by any means, ideology-free IG Mukteshwar Chaubey played with a wicked charm by Ashutosh Rana. He is the kind of oily, upwardly mobile climber who does anything to appeal to his bosses that one sees in corporate life every day.
Parallel to Amit's rise is that of Chandan Mahto (Avinash Tiwary) from a truck driver doing lowly crimes to one of the most feared gangsters, impervious to killing on a mass scale. He is taken under his wing by Abhyudaya Singh (Ravi Kishan), the local goon and wannabe Robin Hood. He rises in the ranks of Singh's coterie and the body count rises. That lands him in jail where he encounters Dilip aka Chawanprash Sahu (Jatin Sarna, who played Bunty in Sacred Games (2018)). The duo go on to acquire a fearsome reputation for having no compunctions about mass killings. Definitely worth a mention here is Aishwarya Sushmita playing Sahu's wife Meeta Devi, another savvy survivalist.
The good part of this series is that it doesn't have the harsh language that most crime dramas on streaming have just because they are not yet subject to censorship, that usually preclude them from family viewing. However, it still maintains the idiom of Bihar with its quirky turns of phrase and analogies. The complaint, if any, is that it goes by the numbers in checking off the required KPIs of a police procedural. It's fast paced due to its episodes numbering only 7, but that sometimes leaves some stories and characters hurried, such as the all too brief appearance by the talented and funny Vinay Pathak as CM Ujjiyaar Prasad.
Finally though it is an enjoyable romp through the mess of caste, politics, power, and mayhem that is the eternally fascinating state of Bihar. to those of us not from there. As the title song says, "Aaiye na humra Bihar mein".
December 22, 2022