Wednesday, June 12
Sultan of Delhi review Tahir Raj Bhasin cannot redeem formulaic

Sultan of Delhi review: Tahir Raj Bhasin cannot redeem formulaic gangster drama | Web Series

Filmmakers might be flexing their stereotypical tendencies now in the web series format, but the patience of their audience has surely reached saturation point. The same clichés, unnecessary skin show, and fascination with gangsters has now become so predictable that even before a revelation occurs, one knows exactly where it’s headed. For Milan Luthria, the man who gave us the potent Once Upon A Time In Mumbai a decade ago, expectations were high with Sultan of Delhi, the new series based on Arnab Ray’s 2016 book of the same name. Alas, it all comes crashing down in a disappointing mess. Not even Tahir Raj Bhasin can save the lousy storytelling that is all show and no substance. (Also read: Anupriya Goenka says Mukesh Bhatt told her: ‘Beti, you remind me of Smita Patil’)

Tahir Raj Bhasin is a still from Sultan of Delhi.
Tahir Raj Bhasin is a still from Sultan of Delhi.

The premise

Sultan of Delhi, which is co-directed by Milan Luthria and Suparn S Verma (whose The Trial was another disappointment of a different kind), starts off with promise and abandon. We are introduced to the Arjun (Ricky Patel), who has to witness the bloody massacre of his family that occurs during the Partition. He manages to survive the night with his father (Bijay Anand), and land in Delhi. From hereon, its a new beginning for him.

No questions asked

Yet, the refugee camp portions are death like a narrative checklist rather than instilling how Arjun had to learn the ropes to survive in this world. A decade passes in a flash and we are suddenly acquainted with Arjun- now as a car mechanic. Tahir Raj Bhasin steps in, with his suave body language and immaculate hairstyle in place. Soon, he is working under Jagan Seth (Vinay Pathak) and making himself knows as a powerful leader. Ask why, and you get a ridiculously staged illegal ammunition trade that involves a lot of unnecessary murders of policemen. Ask why again, and there are no answers given. The questions are better left outside, one understands as the episodes arrive.

Arjun’s nemesis here is Rajinder Pratap Singh (Nishant Dahiya), who is an aristocratic brat, better off dealing with his own daddy issues. He is supported by Shankari (Anupriya Goenka), who plays the manipulative mistress. Dressed in bizzare, revealing outfits, she is perhaps the most hastily written character in a show that is just not interested in understanding them.

Final thoughts

Then there is the introduction of Mouni Roy as a cabaret dancer at a Calcutta nightclub, in a totally unnecessary number midway through the show, and it culminates into a ridiculous bank robbery scene a few scenes after. Another outlandish sequence arrives when Arjun strips naked infront of a gangster to prove his allegiance. The show also has an exasperating sense of place and politics of its time period- settling for the worst kind of stereotypes to move its plot forward. One such example is that of filmmaker Roy Babu whose brilliance in activism rests in pulling out bank heists that he labels as rebellion!

Tahir Raj Bhasin has little to do when he is not provided with any scope to flesh out his character in the midst of such narrative drudgery. Each character is playing exactly as the audience perceives them to be- etched in broad, stereotypical brushstrokes devoid of any depth. There’s no investment in these settings, no determination to hold on to them in the long run. At the end of 9 episodes, one ceases to care. This is a disappointing adaptation that barely manages to redeem itself by its tawdry denouement.

Sultan of Delhi is available to stream on Disney+ Hotstar from October 13.

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