Is there a wonder drug that can save the world? That’s the premise of High, which gives us a-search-and-a momentous-discovery, and its far-reaching consequences, spread over a few decades, and an assortment of colourful, interested parties.
It’s a smart hook, and High, directed by Nikhil Rao, has a bunch of interesting actors in play. Akshay Oberoi has lead billing as a good-hearted druggie, who fetches up with a secret group (Prakash Belawadi, Nakul Bhalla, Shweta Basu Prasad) which is busy stirring up a potion with the potential to, gasp, change everything. Ranged on the other side is an ambitious representative of Evil Pharma, and her trigger-happy associate (Ranvir Shorey), plus several dealers, goons and mobsters. A few civilians are around as well, just to give us a break from all the shooting up, snorting, and the spraying of bullets.
So here’s the good stuff, and I’m not talking of the piles of powder going up addicted noses. The series has atmosphere, and a distinctive colour palette: the flashbacks, which take place in the early 70s, are in B&W, and the idealistic group on the trail of a magic plant tramps around dense jungles. Present-day locations range from TV studios, to picturesque rehab centres nestling in the hills, to the hide-outs of noble so-called Naxals, to nightclubs and raves where bad things happen, and villains’ dens which remind you of 70s flicks.
Fun and games ensue as the mice scurry about, getting picked off one by one, and the cats snarl and growl. Oberoi does a good job of going down slippery paths that stoners tread, and Shorey is sufficiently slate-eyed as a gumshoe dealing with nightmares. Mantra Mugdha, as a DJ who deals, and Madhur Mittal, as a ‘chota’ bhai shaping up to becoming a big one, do their jobs with enthusiasm. And Mrinmayee Godbole, as a TV reporter looking to work her way out of low-grade entertainment to seriousness, is effective.
Nine episodes, though, is a long time to keep up suspense and intrigue. If you are nifty enough, the glaring contrivances and plot holes and lazy repetitions can be quickly passed over. We get too much time to dwell on these things, and also to rue the fact that despite everything the bad guys sound very ‘filmi’. Indian web series seem to be discovering the joys of BDSM (whips, chains etc), all the better to accessorise villains with, but they forget that it all gets old too soon. Plus, I don’t know about you, but I’m getting seriously tired of all the ‘maa-behen gaalis’ that are strewn around all over the place. And the self-righteous trio behind the super-drug is neither credible nor fun, but it’s really not their fault: this aspect of the plot is waffly, and manages to be neither of those things.
Given that ‘maal’ is so much a hot-button issue these days, High is topical. And while it’s at it, we do get a quick run-though of the troubles that addicts and their families face. So yay for those engaged in illicit activities like seeking out a magic drug to kill all desire for the actual lethal stuff, except you wish this part was done better. Also, we get that cliff-hangers are the best things to keep us guessing, but High needed a better climactic pay-off. Unless there’s going to be a second season? Happy to check in to see what’s going on then, hopefully tighter, and zippier.
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