Dahaad roars as a gripping crime thriller while droppings truths on gender, caste
A dramatic, engaging series that goes beyond its premise of a determined woman cop catching a brutal killer, Dahaad unpacks how society’s actions shape a woman’s identity and choices.
Friday May 12, 2023,
5 min Read
Starring: Sonakshi Sinha, Gulshan Devaiah, Vijay Verma, Sohum Shah, Zoa Morani, Ankur Verma
In its trailer, Dahaad promised to not be your average crime thriller. The conflict was set right away—a ruthless killer and psychopath who got over 25 young girls to commit suicide, without leaving a single clue, and an unstoppable female police officer who’s after him in the hinterlands.
The Amazon Prime Video web series doesn’t just live up to expectations but excels in building up and showing the challenges of a semi-rural police force which has to act on caste-based violence when often its own cadre is prone to prejudice.
It is helmed by Sonakshi Sinha who plays Anjali Bhaati, a police officer in Mandawa, a small, tourist town in Rajasthan, a state where caste-based violence has often reared its ugly head. She is in charge of leading the force to find a girl from an economically-backwards family and has not been in touch with her loved ones after having eloped.
Devilal Singh (Gulshan Devaiah), the station in-charge who is largely looked down upon due to his caste by a prejudiced police force, assigns the case to Bhaati, who is known to be a ‘hunterwali’ among colleagues. Competing with her in this remote police posting is the morally malleable Kailash Parghi (Sohum Shah), who is serving a demotion.
Dahaad does not conceal its context.
Set in the backdrop of vicious caste politics, the missing girl’s case unravels many more similar cases. Each victim is from a poor family, lower caste, and has committed the cardinal sin of leaving family strictures for love. And each is a suicide.
As a clear pattern emerges, Bhaati, Singh and Shah have to work a complicated chain of events while finding almost no trace of the killer.
Meanwhile, the murderer, played by a stone-cold Vijay Verma as Professor Anand Swarnakar, is a popular teacher and a committed social worker on weekends. He is a family man and a peace-loving person on the face. However, his solitary journey through the snaking highways through the sand dunes of Rajasthan sparks dread, each time sending out a warning about his next kill.
The series also throws light on the apathy of a social system that has no empathy for women who break societal norms and punish those who reach beyond their station. And then there’s an overworked police force that lacks the resources of any centralised investigation mechanism. This is why positioning a determined, strong female police officer from a lower caste, who could well have been one of the victims, is a powerful statement made by Dahaad.
Collectively directed by Reema Kagti and Ruchika Oberoi, it builds on the core theme of Kagti’s sleeper hit Talaash (2012)—the whodunnit of a missing and invisible girl.
In Dahaad, the case matters the least to her own folks, who, like their peers, often place tough guard rails on the women in their families.
Women are often the ones who put one another down. Mothers and grandmothers resent their daughters of a marriageable age because they can’t meet dowry demands. Marrying someone outside one’s caste can mean getting ostracised, and so does choosing to elope and marry.
The movie shows how families and societal norms in India dictate the lives of women, putting a ceiling on their hopes and ambitions. This parochial attitude is passed down to everyone, including the family of the police officer.
However, Dahaad succeeds in conveying all that without centring on the social message, and rather, underplaying it to establish a thrilling watch where good cops fight corruption. Detailed and thorough character development makes its interpretation of complex circumstances that impact decisions, perception and final motives of everyone involved.
Even more than the characters of Sinha and Devaiah, the villain has been given a thorough, well-rounded and relevant background which underlines the makings of his near-professional modus operandi and his twisted mind. It is also accentuated by Verma’s chilling and menacing performance as the concealed serial killer who won’t think twice before hurting anyone.
Sinha is very convincing as the short-tempered, determined female police officer riding a Bullet motorcycle in a land where women still wear a veil outdoors. Her character overcompensates with latent aggression and an angry demeanour, necessary to hold her own in a male-dominated profession. Shah’s character is given a clear transformation through the series, one that he pulls off effortlessly. But the stand-out performance here is that of Devaiah. He is restrained and convincing without ever crossing over to melodrama.
Besides a solid ensemble cast trained in the right Rajasthani accent, the series’ cinematography (by Tanay Satam) captures the desert state’s stark beauty through lush aerial shots and elevates its dramatic narrative. With a well-composed background score (by Tarana Marwah and Gaurav Raina), Dahaad is a cinematic scale OTT production with captivating visual storytelling.
While there’s a long list of writers credited on IMDB, Dahaad is created by Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti. It tells that brutal crimes are beyond the actions of any single individual and highlights the impact of how society shapes a girl’s identity and agency.
Dahaad’s nuanced story is engaging, entertaining, and introspective. Highly recommended for those who like a gripping watch that makes ones think.
(The story was updated as there were a few credit errors)
Edited by Kanishk Singh