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Tandav Review: Just Like Indian Politics, Has Lots Of Potential But Wastes It Due To Flawed Priorities

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Since this is a review about a show on politics, let me begin with a philosophical question. Do you think Adam and Eve regretted biting the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge? Was ignorance better? I find myself on similar crossroads when I now watch movies and shows. As someone who reviews them for a living, I’ve tasted of the fruit of knowledge too. And now I cannot close my eyes and gloss over the flaws just because everything else is bright and shiny. That’s precisely how I feel about Amazon Prime Video’s latest offering, Tandav. A political drama directed by Ali Abbas Zafar, written by Gaurav Solanki and produced by Zafar and Himanshu Mehra, the show stars Saif Ali Khan, Dimple Kapadia, Mohd. Zeeshan Ayyub, Sunil Grover, and Tigmanshu Dhulia, for starters.

The massive ensemble cast also includes Kumud Mishra, Sarah Jane Dias, Gauahar Khan, Kritika Kamra, Dino Morea ,Sandhya Mridul, Annup Sonii, Hitten Ttejwani, Paresh Pahuja, Shonali Nagrani and Amyra Dastur.

 

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Plot: Where politicians play musical chairs 

Devki Nandan (Tigmanshu Dhulia) is the Prime Minister about to win his third tenure. And because the largest democracy in the world is addicted to dynastic politics, his son Samar Pratap Singh (Saif Ali Khan) thinks he’ll inherit the ‘kursi’. Naturally dad’s not too fond of his son’s ambitions. But yaar, Indian dads just don’t know how to raise sons. They’ll constantly berate them, tell them they can never be good enough, and show them down in front of people, and then wonder why their son turned out like this? Arre pappa, what were you expecting?

Anyhoo, Devki Nandan dies on the eve of election results, and what should’ve been an easy peasy win for Samar becomes a long winding road, paved with only glitches in his masterful plan. From senior party leader Anuradha Kishore (Dimple Kapadia) to the personal motivations of aadarshvaadi student Shiva Shekhar (Zeeshan Ayyub) from Samar’s alma mater, Vivekananda National University (VNU). Like, dude can’t catch a break. After every smart move, we see Saif’s Samar smiling like the ‘taanaashah’ his father tells his associate Gopal Das (Kumud Mishra) he thinks Samar  is. And the very next minute, someone dumps gobar on his plans and the smile’s wiped off. And who has to stand up to clean this gobar every time? The family fixer-upper/consigliere, Gurpal (Sunil Grover).

To quote another politician from another Saif Ali Khan show, desh sankat mein hai. There’s farmer’s protests going on at one end; on another, the country’s practically devoid of good politicians, and the youth of the country is being dragged into killer student politics. Which as one of the cops described, is the place where terrorists are created now. Shiva’s decision to choose civil services over politics is flipped with a powerful statement from Samar—one picks up the phone and takes orders; the other picks up the phone and gives orders. Aisa tagda dialogue maaroge, who’ll not be convinced?

So, with Samar fighting his rajneeti battles with some chanakyaniti, and Shiva getting poised to be a worthy parallel track, ab hoga tandav?

Umm, yeah, not really.

Also Read: Exclusive! Sarah Jane Dias On Playing A Potential First Lady In ‘Tandav’, And Her Mental Health Mantra For 2021

Tandav’s plot is needlessly complicated for something that has such a simplistic grasp on its subject matter

One of the many disclaimers about the show is that it is not inspired from or based on any real politicians. So you have JNU and AIIMS knockoffs, farmer protests and student politics, and older politicians undermining and cracking sexist jokes about women’s appearances. But I think that’s where the similarities end. Tandav really is fiction, in that it has zero depth when compared to what’s really happening in the country. I mean, this could’ve been a show about the takeover of a business empire instead of a country, and you could still have all these plots play out just as is.

When you’re making a political drama in times like these, what’s even the point if your commentary isn’t sharp and incisive? And if you’re saying that’s not possible without being obvious about it, you should pick up the theories on the political and environmental subtext in The Lord of the Rings. Or duh, maybe just The Simpsons and House of Cards.

The dilemmas in Tandav feel very superficial, and they are so easily resolved sometimes, it’s funny. The show has this very simplistic, ‘Instagram-influencer commenting on politics’ type take on what the problems of the world’s largest democracy could be. And yet, everything is needlessly convoluted. Too many characters are involved in sorting a mess that would’ve taken just one character to resolve. Nobody is communicating or asking each other the right questions! For people who claim to be shrewd politicians orchestrating entire regime changes and having the confidence to run a country the size of India, the characters make stupid errors of judgement, and rarely do a job thoroughly. At one point, and I cannot reveal exactly which point, I was screaming at the screen, “TOH YEH PEHLE KYUN NAHI KIYA, SMARTASS!?”

 

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I’m not sure if the makers were sure what to do with so many characters

In all my previous writing about the show, I was rather excited about having such a huge star cast aboard a show about politics. Look at our Parliament IRL, we have so many star players. The standard in fiction, though lofty, is of course Game of Thrones, a show which handled its politics brilliantly even if it couldn’t stick its dragon landing. Each character’s motivations were solid, and you sympathised, even with the cruel, ruthless ones.

In Tandav, however, it feels like they want you to sympathise or empathise with every character. Which, considering it’s politics, does not make sense. It seems like the writer does not know what to do with so many characters. So they make the erroneous judgement of creating unnecessary complications to give them something to do. You could perhaps overlook that too for a second. But my problem arises when I cannot understand the motivations of these characters to even be a part of this! Their motives lack conviction. And if you aren’t convinced about them, and don’t feel for them, how do you invest in their story? This happens a lot with the secondary characters and it just deviates from the main plot.

 

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You’ve heard of the phrase, “Show, don’t tell”? One of the most frustrating things is that Tandav makes a very rookie mistake I’d expect from Indian TV soaps, but not shows of this stature. (Sue me, OTT has my standards raised real high.) Why does every character launch into stating the obvious in vicious detail? And why do we need to see everything when some of it could’ve been taken care of, off camera? For example, person A is dead, and we’re pretty sure who killed them. So do we need to see the actual act? That too after the body is discovered? Again, a death scene from the first episode is replayed in interception with the climax scene. Why? I felt personally insulted that the makers were doubting my intelligence over following the story.

Also, explain to me like I am five. But if you want to keep your crime a secret, don’t go around talking about it to people, God! And don’t send recognisable faces, dressed in impeccable outfits and trademark accessories to do the shady, secretive work!

Also Read: “OTT Is Encouraging My Versatility”: Sandhya Mridul On Tandav, And Finally Getting To Play Non-Stereotypical Characters

The show has some redeeming qualities. But are they enough?

You know how we compare America politics to Indian politics, and huff and puff at how the West holds its politicians to higher standards while we Indians are from the ‘chhodo humein kya?’ school of thought? Our approach toward content is also quite similar. My privileged ass ODs on American, British and foreign language shows and for me there’s a very different gold standard for political drama. I watched Tandav with my parents, and while my mother was a fellow skeptic, pointing out missteps and potholes, my father was completely into the show. He didn’t find much amiss.

To a certain extent I was engaged too. There’s no way you’re not, because we all love a good drama. And there’s really nothing better than politics, is there? Tandav has an incredible lineup of talent, a story that has a lot of potential if perhaps it can remedy itself in Season 2 (STAT, because that cliffhanger was just ugh), and of course, the budget to pull it all off stylishly. You can see it all in the production design and costumes.  Add to the mix a track by A.R. Rahman to which the student politics arc is set, perhaps to invoke the RDB spirit. And the background score by Julius Packiam gives the whole package the feel of your favourite Salman Khan movie by Ali Abbas Zafar.

Though the dialogues are not always up to the mark, there’s enough that are seeti-worthy.

Tandav is full of decent performances but has two MVPs: Sunil Grover and Dimple Kapadia!

 

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After hearing much about the female characters in Tandav, again, I had high expectations. Unfortunately, they weren’t met because with so many characters on board, we’ve only had fleeting glimpses of most of them. We don’t see much emotional range from the male characters either, so do I even complain? However, everyone does put their best performances forward, but I thought the lead bunch were quite captivating.

Saif Ali Khan is such good casting for Samar—smug, over-confident, never showing his weaknesses, always playing an angle, and a charmer at that, he plays his part well. Zeeshan Ayyub is his usual sincere self and there’s no complaints there. And Dimple Kapadia…! I called it with Tenet and I am saying it again, give this lady more such roles, please! The scenes between her and Saif are cackling with electricity! Give me an episode of just her and Saif engaged in one of those American presidential debate thingies, with Kumud Mishra’s Gopal Das offering commentary and I am sold!

But OMG, we need to talk about Sunil Grover as Gurpal. The style with those glasses, the mannerisms, the measured expressions, the rigid body language, the laugh! He seems to have some of the best dialogues. And he’s a cat person? That is some well-placed character trait right there. Why can’t we get something like this for the others?

 

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Also Read: Shonali Nagrani Says The Women Of ‘Tandav’ Are Strong Without Losing Their Femininity. Finally!

Verdict: Tandav, like Indian politics, has so much potential that it lets go waste.

Shiva’s character is afraid to enter politics because he knows that power can corrupt and divert your priorities from the good of the many to the good of the one, yourself. The same thing happens with the show too. Tandav enters the arena with a good promise, but pretty soon, doped up on shock value, it forgets about substance. Result? A chance at greatness wasted. Luckily, we could get a Season 2 and there could be ways to salvage the situation. I’d suggest less entangled plots, some depth the political commentary and giving us more layers in the existing primary characters.

In the meantime, you can have Tandav engage you just enough, if you can look past the flaws. But I don’t think we do that anymore, do we?

Tandav Season 1 is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

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