Small screen,big thrillerhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/small-screen-big-thriller/

Small screen,big thriller

‘24’ poses a new question to a jaded TV audience.

‘24’ poses a new question to a jaded TV audience.

A week,former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson reportedly said,is a long time in politics. To coin another phrase,24 hours is a long time on television.

Those who watched Colors on the weekend will agree. In one hour on Friday,Anil Kapoor and his team answered a question that has been hanging fire over Indian TV for a decade,at least: can we produce world class entertainment that isn’t held together by petticoat strings? Yes,we can. Watch 24 (Colors).

You’ll disagree,say it’s not an original but the Indian franchise version of the American show,24. Sure,but it does precisely what a good “copy” should do: it adapts to its new surroundings,namely Mumbai — which has never seemed more sinister,dark and dangerous on TV before — can’t remember seeing any daylight between the first two episodes,just enough grey light to illumine people struggling within the confines of an office,a home,a cinema hall,a car or even of the mind.

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You’ll say the storyline is trite,a mish-mash of politics and police chases a la Bollywood: Agent Jai Rathod and his anti-terrorist squad race against time to prevent an assassination attempt by one “Yakub” (stereotyping here?) on a young prime ministerial hopeful from a famous political family (any resemblance to the Gandhis must be entirely deliberate).

When last did you see an Indian political thriller like this on television? And how positively daring to take aim at the first family of Indian politics,albeit in a drama,at a time when they are in the eye of many political storms in real life?

How refreshingly different,topical,to have a plot on the most challenging contemporary issue — terrorism — that too in Maximum City,ra-ther than on women waging war against women in the kitchen? A plot that seamlessly threads together many subplots,etching out clearly defined characters in the space of a few minutes,to create a pattern which,for all the rapid switches,is always intelligible.

You may argue that Kapoor is no Kiefer Sutherland,the star of the original 24 — he with the taut muscles,the taut jaw,the steely eyes and the steely resolve,a man a furnace could not melt down into human blood and bones. But that’s what is promising about this 24 — it is an adaptation not an imitation. Kapoor is ruthless when he has to be — in the cinema hall where he tries to rescue his fatally injured colleague (Anupam Kher),shooting his way out of trouble (did he cut off an adversary’s finger or did the brooding scene produce a hallucination?). But he is tearful while driving away,leaving Kher behind. At a time when James Bond is being humanised,Kapoor is a man we can perhaps Facebook like,a family man trying to rediscover his parivar when his 24 hours to track down the terrorists begins to tick over.

Indian audiences like men who cry. All our film and TV heroes weep from time to time. So Kapoor is far more appealing in his role (he’s also responsible for bringing the show to the small screen) than,say,a Rajeev Khandelwal who might have been more in the Sutherland mould.

The supporting cast includes Mandira Bedi as a colleague,Tisca Chopra as his wife,Neel Bhoopalam as the political scion and less well-known actors. Thus far,they’ve resisted the temptation to act or over-react like actors in saas-bahus. Thanks to director Abhinay Deol,24 looks like a high quality product.

Now there is new question before the Indian TV audience: do we have what it takes to appreciate 24? This is a gritty,contemporary,urban drama,alien to normal Indian TV culture where every issue and emotion is dressed up in costume jewels,family values and buried in the deep recesses of the home.

Will the programme maintain its momentum,quality? In 48 hours it proved that Indian TV has the ability,the talent to create good,even great,TV,but all too often well begun ends badly as another saas-bahu. Thus far,the comical CID (Sony) has defined the detective/thriller genre,while shows like Arjun (Star Plus) lack finesse. That leaves Crime Patrol and Hum Ne Li Hai… Shapath (Life OK) to bring us real crime and the city.

If 24 succeeds,Indian TV may change forever and for the better. If it doesn’t,we will have to ask ourselves,a la Arvind Kejriwal,what will happen to us in front of the TV?

shailaja.bajpai@expressindia.com