The premise is perhaps as intriguing as it gets. Will you kill a man to save your family? If yes, are you taking a life or saving one? Hostages, now streaming on Hotstar, is produced by Applause Entertainment and Banijay Asia productions and directed by Sudhir Mishra. This Hotstar Special is an Indian adaptation of a popular Israeli series created by Omri Givon, Rotem Shamir and Yezira Ivrit that premiered in 2013.
Prithvi Singh (Ronit Bose Roy) is a respected police officer who cracks a tricky case on his last day in the police force. He is calm and clever, and his colleagues admire him. In another part of the town, Dr Mira Anand (Tisca Chopra) is about to perform an operation on Chief Minister Khushwant Handa (Dalip Tahil). It’s a high-profile case that the hospital has handed her, leaving her mentor upset. Her husband Sanjay (Parvin Dabbas) is the principal of a school and we learn that he has secrets to hide of his own. They are parents to two teenagers; college-going Shaina (Malhar Rathod) who has just found she is pregnant and Shovan (Sharad Joshi) who is about to leak examination papers to impress a senior at school.
It seems like just another dysfunctional yet normal day for the family in their beautiful home, when a group of masked men break in and take them hostage. The demand is that Mira kills the Chief Minister when she operates on him the next morning. If she doesn’t, her family will be killed one by one. Mira is shocked and frightened and it seems like she has no choice. Will she actually kill the minister, or use her wits and manage to save her family in time? Why is the man behind the mask, whose identity comes as the first big twist, asking her to commit murder?
Hostages starts off with a bang and sets up the main players and motives at a brisk pace. The stakes are high and the family is understandably terrified, trying to find ways to escape. Mira manages to have the operation delayed by a few days, but her actions have unpleasant consequences when the captors understand what she has done. Escape attempts go wrong, an unexpected visitor causes a gunfight that leaves Sanjay seriously wounded, and as one day stretches to four, the masked gang starts fighting amongst themselves.
While it gets off to a great start and has a dramatic climax where the stakes get really high, the pace slackens considerably as the family and hostage-takers wait for the minister‘s operation. The show would have probably benefitted if it had been trimmed down from 10 episodes to eight to maintain the sense of heightened tension that comes from the anticipated countdown to a big event.
It seems a bit unnatural to see the family having whispered conversations about escape plans while the hostage-takers linger in the same room. Two of their captors who are a couple, even find time to get intimate while they are supposed to be watching the family! What also seems a bit hard to digest is how easily the family members start manipulating their captors, given none of them have been in a similar situation before. While the Stockholm syndrome does occur between kidnappers and their victims, three days seems too short a time for banter and bonding between the group.
The show is an adaptation, so while the story perhaps couldn’t be modified, it would have benefitted immensely from sharper cinematography and tighter editing. For example, a high-pressure chase through the forest never feels as dangerous because it's shot entirely in long shots. A few close-ups of the frightened children, handheld camera shots of them running helter-skelter, or running with a camera strapped onto their bodies, as is often seen in films today, would have made a crucial sequence far more edge of the seat.
Of the cast, Ronit Bose Roy and Tisca Chopra put in measured performances, especially Chopra who seems more adept at restraint than Roy who can start looking a little blank while trying to underplay. Parvin Dabas’s performance improves with every episode while the Malhar and Sharad playing the kids are sincere but look obviously new. The captors apart from their leader (not mentioning who to avoid spoilers) end up being mostly one-note characters. After 10 episodes, we know little or nothing about them or their motives, and with one dead we will perhaps never know. There is apparently a second season, so perhaps this character development will happen then.
There are some really great moments that stay with you. Tisca Chopra’s face distorted in a mirror when she finds out a shocking truth, a little exchange between Shaina and a helpful petrol pump attendant, and the twist involving someone close to the chief minister are all great but I really wish there was more. The show is a good one-time watch, especially if you haven’t seen the original Israeli series or the American series, but while it can capture your attention, it may not hold you captive throughout.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.