‘Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein’, Netflix web series starring Tahir Raj Bhasin, Shweta Tripathi Sharma and Anchal Singh, cleverly reverses the male gaze by turning a man into the object of a woman’s obsession.

Shweta Tripathi Sharma and Tahir Raj Bhasin in Netflix web series Yeh Kaali Kaali AnkheinScreengrab
Flix Netflix Friday, January 14, 2022 - 13:47

The possessive and/or obsessive female lover is a character we have seen before in Bollywood and Hollywood. Whether it was Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, Kajol in Gupt or Priyanka Chopra Jonas in Aitraaz, there have been a few memorable female characters who turned anywhere between manipulative to murderous to get the man they desired.

In Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein, now streaming on Netflix, Vikrant (Tahir Raj Bhasin), a small-town engineering graduate, catches the eye of wealthy Purva (Anchal Singh). Her father, Akhiraj Awasthi (Saurabh Shukla), is a powerful politician who casually kills cops in his office and resorts to violence without a second thought.

Vikrant and Purva were classmates for a short while in school but he had rebuffed her attempts at friendship even as a child. When they cross paths 15 years later in her father’s mansion, Vikrant has little idea that life will never be the same again. His plans of taking up a government job and marrying his college sweetheart Shikha (Shweta Tripathi Sharma) are overthrown when Purva gets her father to offer him a job with three times the salary. Vikrant tries to protest but his father (Brijendra Kala), who is Akhiraj’s accountant, offers no support.

Thus begins a cat and mouse chase of obsessive love as Purva uses her father’s money and power to create chaos in Vikrant’s life. The harder he tries to escape her clutches, the more entangled things get, and before long, Vikrant finds himself blurring the lines of right and wrong in an attempt to find freedom.

Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein cleverly reverses the male gaze by turning a man into the object of a woman’s obsession. Creator, screenplay writer and director Sidharth Sengupta had said in an interview that the show was inspired by Bollywood’s pulpy romantic thrillers and even the show’s title is borrowed from a song from 90’s film Baazigar. Things get off to a brisk start with the main characters and central conflict getting established in the first episode. But unfortunately well-begun is only half done, quite literally here.

A major problem area is the lack of any subplot that could have added complexity or brought in a much-needed twist to the story. The whole ‘trying to escape from the obsessive lover’ dilemma starts feeling repetitive halfway through the series. Vikrant’s love story with Shikha is sweet and quite reminiscent of Shweta’s debut film Masaan down to the song that plays in the background, but it is established in under 10 minutes and mostly via a song. It’s a little hard to feel for the couple when they have barely romanced before the bad guys make their entry.

This was a great opportunity to create a really well-written female villain and subvert all the tropes of stalking and obsession that have been glorified by mainstream cinema over the years. Unfortunately at no point does Purva seem truly scary. It’s great to have a villain who isn’t loud or crass, but the narrative can’t seem to decide who the real antagonist is – Purva, or her father who actually wields the power and money.

The episodes should have been punctuated with scenes to enforce just how unhinged or frightening she actually is. Purva ends up feeling more like a soap opera vamp than a memorable villain who can drive a person to the brink. I kept hoping that like Cersei, she would blow a bunch of people up and sip wine calmly while she did it, but sadly all she does is call her father or thugs on a phone.

A lack of suspense or intrigue also hinders the script. Instead of showing us every internet search, every phone call and every discussion, including more red herrings and plot twists would have made the story far more interesting. Dangling the carrot of an upcoming aha moment is what makes a watching a web series enjoyable and bingeworthy.

The makers add a few nice touches like a character mentally animating the bride and groom on a wedding decoration piece and getting one to repeatedly kill the other. A contract killer quips ‘tatkal murder’ for a last-minute job, and a prospective groom for Shikha raps a love song to her, a possible hat tip to Shweta’s real life husband Chaitanya Sharma. But these can’t distract one long enough from the rapidly unravelling tale. The makers just can’t seem to decide whether this a dark comedy, a thriller, or a tragic love story.

Plot contrivances start taking precedence over genuine character motivations to drive the narrative forward. A professional contract killer comes unprepared and misses his mark, a plan is hatched to rob money from a warehouse but no one bothers to check for CCTV cameras. Then there is a long sequence in Ladakh that looks too touristy to really intensify the proceedings on screen.

Tahir is in almost every scene of the show but given the repetitive loop of events, he really can’t showcase a great range of emotions. He tries valiantly to do justice to the part but is limited by the writing. There could have been a well-drawn character arc here that showed him go from hapless lover boy to criminal mastermind. Shweta is a talented actor but her character Shikha could have also benefitted from more depth and complexity. Saurabh Shukla and Brijendra Kala are reliably good in their roles and Saurabh manages to bring a convincing menace to his character. Anant Joshi as Vikrant’s devoted childhood friend, Golden, is also impressive.

The original background score and songs by Shivam Sengupta and Arjun Danait add a cinematic feel to the proceedings, but the songs and their slow motion execution tend to impact the pace of the show. Perhaps the makers should have stuck to creating a great two-hour film instead of stretching the story over eight episodes of almost 40 minutes each.

Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein sets out to be a pulpy thriller, but sadly runs out of juice pretty soon.

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.

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