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Saturday, January 22, 2022

Aranyak: Raveena Tandon’s Netflix show is ridiculous, and one scene captures everything that is wrong with it

Post Credits Scene: Aranyak, starring Raveena Tandon, is ridiculous even by Netflix India standards. But one scene in particular is emblematic of its biggest flaws.

Written by Rohan Naahar | New Delhi |
Updated: January 7, 2022 6:14:15 pm
Raveena Tandon in a still from Aranyak. (Photo: Netflix)

Inspector Angad Mallik is shocked when the coroner, ostensibly a man of science, declares after examining the dead body of a teenage girl that she must have been killed by a supernatural being that the locals call the ‘Nar Tendua’. Angad, played by a very stoic Parambrata Chattopadhyay in Netflix‘s Aranyak, can’t hide his disbelief at what he’s just heard. Granted, he thinks of his new colleagues as hicks, but he’d expected more of a man whose actual job is to study the lifeless bodies of men, women and children, and come up with clinical explanations for their deaths.

Aranyak’s problematic depiction of small town residents as uniformly backward and superstitious aside, this is one of the more level-headed scenes you’ll find in the show, which has to be one of the most ridiculous things Netflix India has ever released. That’s saying something for a streaming service that has, since its arrival in the country, produced such travesties as Bard of Blood, Betaal, and Mrs Serial Killer.

Sold as HBO’s Mare of Easttown set in a Himachal Pradesh hamlet, Aranyak stars not a seven-time Oscar nominee but Raveena Tandon. She plays Kasturi Dogra, the SHO of the fictional town of Sironah, who on the eve of a sabbatical is forced back into action when the body of a teenage French girl is discovered in the woods, leading to speculation about a supernatural serial killer’s return after nearly two decades.

The city-bred Angad had been summoned as her temporary replacement, but it soon becomes clear to both him and Kasturi that they’re going to have to put their ideological differences aside and work together to catch the killer on the loose.

In one of her earliest introduction scenes—there are several—Kasturi thrashes a French hippie who’d come in to the ‘thana’ to report her daughter missing. Angad is aghast at the reckless abandon with which Kasturi saunters in and out of the station, snacking on ‘pakoras’ and slapping people willy-nilly. Their first few interactions invariably end with the two of them butting heads over the investigation, but their relationship suddenly transitions into something more tender, when, utterly unmotivated, they start exchanging flirtatious glances over meals.

As abrupt as this change is to behold, it isn’t the strangest thing you’ll see in the show. There is, however, one scene that truly captures Aranyak’s inherent peculiarity, and like the one I just described a few moments ago, it, too, involves the coroner.

In episode three—six of eight were provided for preview—Kasturi walks into the coroner’s office with a new corpse. Like the French teenager’s body, this one, too, bears similar injuries on the neck. The coroner doesn’t spout superstitious nonsense this time, and says matter-of-factly, “Gale ki nas kaati gayi hai, jugular vein.” Kasturi, who, mind you, is the SHO, gives him a quizzical look. “Jugular?” she asks. “Woh kya hota hai?” Ha ha.

Wild as it is for a show to expect you to believe that a seasoned cop wouldn’t know what the jugular vein is, the inclusion of a scene like this signals three things: the first, that series director Vinay Waikul has little understanding of tone, the second, that the show really wants to portray people from small town India, regardless of what they do for a living, as really stupid.

But the bigger fault of this scene is much graver. It has implications on the narrative, and represents a mistake that many writers, not just Aranyak’s Charudutt Acharya, routinely make. The scene, you see, undermines the ability of the character. By advertising Kasturi’s ineptitude (For what? A laugh?), the show dismantles our trust in her. Aranyak cannot expect the audience to believe in Kasturi when she inevitably discovers that she has the investigative prowess needed to crack a case like this.

A later episode, for instance, will undoubtedly include a scene in which Kasturi has a brainwave, and is forced to rely on her many years of training to emerge victorious. But it won’t land. Why? Because it has already been planted in our brains that she doesn’t know what a jugular vein is. The specifics aren’t the point. Kasturi could’ve been having a conversation about the mechanics of her firearm. The point is that this is knowledge that she, as a police officer, should’ve had.

Now imagine a different scenario, where better sense had prevailed. What if Acharya had laid the groundwork by offering brief glimpses at Kasturi’s aptitude as a detective. Small details; nothing major, sporadically scattered throughout the narrative. A deeper reading of clues that she, as a resident of Sironah, could understand but Angad couldn’t. Or perhaps something that ties into her parallel life as a woman who must provide for a family that is on the verge of falling apart. Imagine how satisfying the payoff would’ve been.

The most dangerous thing a story can do is alienate the audience from the protagonist. Aranyak does this, and more.

Post Credits Scene is a column in which we dissect new releases every week, with particular focus on context, craft, and characters. Because there’s always something to fixate about once the dust has settled.

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