Based in the badlands of Uttar Pradesh, in the midst of local Baahubalis, violent gang rivalries, unexpected betrayals, there’s little in Amazon Prime’s Mirzapur that you haven’t seen before. From Anurag Kashyap’s Wasseypur films, Vishal Bhardwaj’s Shakespeare adaptations in the underworld (a trusted hitman in the show, is called Maqbool) to Hollywood classics like Scarface and Goodfellas, Mirzapur is visibly the work of a film fanatic.
Bablu Pandit (a lanky Vikrant Massey) and Guddu Pandit (a beefed-up Ali Fazal) walk around like Mirzapur’s version of Edward Norton & Brad Pitt from Fight Club. But instead of destroying capitalism, the Pandit brothers are making their way into the fast lane by joining hands with the unofficial ‘King of Mirzapur’, Kaleen Bhaiya (a deft Pankaj Tripathi). The duo join forces with the Godfather, much to the disapproval of the heir of the Mirzapur kingdom, Munna Tripathi (a fantastic Divyendu Sharma). There are college elections thrown into the mix reminiscent of Haasil, and there’s also the King’s wife, the seductress Beena (a perpetually dissatisfied Rasika Dugal), who will remind you Mahi Gill from Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Sahib, Biwi Aur Gangster films. There are a number of interweaving plot-lines, and even though none of them are particularly novel, it all comes together as one heady cocktail.
The show comes into its own, in one shining moment between Divyendu Sharma and Abhishek Banerjee. After a failed assassination attempt on Kaleen Bhaiya, Banerjee’s Compounder sits tied to a chair. Having ordered the unsuccessful hit, Munna joins his father to find out what fate has in store for him. Much to his respite, Compounder has remained a loyal friend, like he said he would. A relieved Munna then struggles to put his good friend out of his misery using one swift movement of the razor, just like he had been taught earlier. It’s a terrific moment where Mirzapur leaves behind its déjà vu personality, and transcends into a world of its own.
There’s a sensational track of the aging patriarch (played by Kulbhushan Kharbanda), condemned to a wheel chair, playing the silent observer of the house. He’s seen watching National Geographic shows on TV that study the primal nature of predators in the wild. Uttar Pradesh’s mafia isn’t any less wild for that matter, where a humble lassiwallah could be contracted to kill you.
The show is laced with delicious humour, where a disgruntled customer comes to Kaleen Bhaiya to complain about how a country revolver that exploded in his hand. “Did you not test it before buying it?”, sighs Kaleen Bhaiya ordering his men to replace the customer’s country revolver, insisting that he test the new one. “But I am a right-hander, Kaleen Bhaiya!”, the man says. Kaleen responds with “were… you were right-handed.” Towards the end, a sadistic character waits for the loved ones to open their eyes, before he blows a person’s brains out. It’s cruel, it’s violent and it’s all spiked with a perverse sense of humour.
Mirzapur might not be ground-breaking TV, and it definitely doesn’t have the complexity of Sacred Games. But the show’s snazzy style (reminiscent of City Of God) manages to repackage the age-old conflicts into something more visceral. Vikrant Massey and Ali Fazal go about their sinister routine, fearlessly manufacturing fear and gradually becoming comfortable doing it. Both brain (Massey) and brawn (Fazal) imbibe from each other over time, as Bablu eventually learns to wield his gun without batting an eyelid, while Guddu discovers profitable ventures even when the duo are ordered to go into hiding.
However, in a cast full of exhilarating characters, the blockbuster match-up is between Pankaj Tripathi’s Kaleen Bhaiya & Amit Sial’s IPS Maurya. Addressing the Don as Tripathiji instead of the moniker, Kaleen Bhaiya, the cop is given a curt reminder. The cop in turn shoots back – “…and my subordinates call me Sir”. Mic drop. Just another day in colourful Mirzapur.