Sunil Grover in “Tandav.” (Weber Shandwick photo)

There’s nothing not experienced before in “Tandav”—but there are pretty many suspensions of disbelief, examples of regression and some offensive stuff as well. In that sense, “Tandav” is the substandard Prakash Jha kind of political one-upmanship and skullduggery drama we have seen in his big-screen outings after “Raajneeti,” mixed with typical Ram Gopal Varma-Vishal Bhardwaj and other political fare witnessed in Hindi cinema.

Also, readers please notice that I have clubbed the entire PRINCIPAL FEMALE cast together in the credit titles below before going on to the PRINCIPAL MALE counterparts: and that is done for a reason: NONE of these women are “normal” examples of God’s most beautiful creations!

Come Dimple Kapadia as Anuradha Kishore, Kritika Kamra as the college student Sana Mir, Gauahar Khan as Maithili, Neha Hinge as the reporter Garima, Shonali Nagrani as the ambitious Aditi Mishra, Sandhya Mridul as Prof. Sandhya Nigam, Sarah Jane-Dias as Ayesha, Sukhmani Sadana as Dr. Divya, each one is anything but positive.

So while Amyra Dastur as Sana’s sister and Priyal Mahajan as the late PM’s daughter come across as dumb bimbettes minus minds of their own, the others are strongly manipulative, unscrupulous to the extreme, ambitious beyond decent limits and are also manipulated or treated as mere objects of lust, as in Sandhya Nigam’s and Aditi Mishra’s cases.

Also Anuradha Kishore, as one of the key protagonists, locks her personal self-respect in a cupboard and throws away the key although prime minister Devki Nandan (Tigmanshu Dhulia) does not marry her as he has to keep his image antiseptic in the public eye, and she is fuming within.

The media and medical personnel are all bought (even the males), and are ambitious in a different but equally callous way. And the main men are not much different, and wallow alternately between self-pity, angry frustration and Machiavellian cunning—among them are veteran party worker Gopal Das Munshi (Kumud Mishra), Prof. Jigar (Dino Morea), party worker from the lower class Kailash Kumar (Annup Sonii), prime minister designate Samar Pratap Singh (Saif Ali Khan), Anuradha’s son Raghu (Paresh Pahuja) and Dr. Manohar Pathak (Sandeep Mehta).

The only seemingly normal men are Devki Nandan (Tigmanshu Dhulia), who is bumped off in episode 1 (and that’s no spoiler), the utterly amoral Gurpal Chauhan (Sunil Grover) and the confused but intense Shiva Shekhar (Mohd. Zeeshan Ayyub).

On the eve of a landslide victory for the third term, prime minister Devki Nandan is bumped off by his ambitious son Samar Pratap Singh (Saif Ali Khan) who has been a significant chunk of the reason for their victory. Samar uses a lesser-known poison that he says will not be detected easily, yet a whole posse of doctors who will conduct a post-mortem are bought and taken into confidence!

Despite all this, Devki’s mistress and party worker Anuradha Kishore come to know the deadly secret and blackmails Samar into giving her the coveted post, relegating him to a party youth leader. Samar’s right hand, Gurpal, is given the task of finding out who has leaked the lethal secret, and then there are twists and turns. The end is obviously a cliffhanger, with ambitions for a Season 2. But will that ever happen?

Alongside, there is a saga of the city youth protesting against the suppression of farmers, who are forced to give up their lands by the ruling party, with the murder of two youth leaders and the abduction of a third. All this is led by an idealistic young man named Shiva Shekhar who becomes a hero for his friends. Shiva secretly loves Sana Mir (Kritika Kamra), who has her own agenda due to her circumstances.

The series actually plays safe by naming Indira Gandhi, her son and the Emergency, and also talks of dynastic politics. At the same time, thanks to “idealist” Shiva Shekhar, it shows how fake farmers’ protests can be so easily staged and videographed, bringing a topical touch.

But what we cannot stomach is the wholesale depiction of politicians as depraved human beings, who drink and kill at the drop of a hat, treat women as sex objects (or if they are women, allow themselves to be), and how a Muslim girl is subjected to harassment with respect to her young sister (for what???).

The students are all treated as pawns who can be kidnapped, killed or manipulated at will, and there is this unconvincing nexus between politicians, a professor and a hit-man, and all this for a weird cause that really makes no sense. Vague references to Chandragupat Maurya, and a man spouting philosophy on television add to the irksome quotient. Then there is a barb at the lower classes through Sandhya and the lower-class father of her illegitimate child, Kailash Kumar.

As in all such enterprises, the performances remain good to strong, though I do not know why Paresh Pahuja is made out to be a buffoon-like Raghu, dressed in outlandish clothes for a serious politician to begin with. Saif Ali Khan has a one-dimensional role, but is his usual, sincere self. Dimple Kapadia is outstanding as Anuradha, the woman who knows her mind.

Gauahar Khan as the ruthless-turned-suddenly vulnerable Maithili is a pleasant surprise. Kumud Mishra varies between routine and outstanding (his normal zone), all thanks to the lopsided writing. Mohd. Zeeshan Ayyub and his college friends are alright, Ayyub being his usual self, nothing more, nothing less. Sandhya Mridul is her “normal” victimized self, a strong woman suppressed by men and circumstances.

The sole zinger of a performance comes from the redoubtable Sunil Grover as Gurpal. His menace fills the air when he is around, his expression indomitable, remorseless, stone cold. Without him, this “Tandav” would be filled, almost entirely, with stereotypes and caricatures.

With him, while on, we do not mind the regression, subtle offensiveness and tropes that fill up this vacuous serial. A word of advice to “creator” and director Ali Abbas Zafar: he should go back to what he used to do under the Yash Raj Films umbrella: until then, with “Mere Brother Ki Dulhan,” “Gunday,” “Sultan” and “Tiger Zinda Hai,” he was on a commercial as well as esthetic upswing. After that, it has been downhill with “Bharat” and now this one.

Or is it longevity that is missing in today’s best directors, which I had considered him to be, even after that one faux pas that was “Bharat?”

Rating: **

Produced by: Himanshu Kishan Mehra & Ali Abbas Zafar

Created and directed by: Ali Abbas Zafar

Written by: Gaurav Solanki

Music: Julius Packiam (& A.R. Rahman)

Starring: Dimple Kapadia, Kritika Kamra, Gauahar Khan, Shonali Nagrani, Sandhya Mridul, Neha Hinge, Sarah Jane Dias, Kritika Avasthi, Amyra Dastur, Sukhmani Sadana, Priyal Mahajan, Saif Ali Khan, Sunil Grover, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Dino Morea, Kumud Mishra, Annup Sonii, Latin Ghai, Paresh Pahuja, Gaurav Parajuli, Vikhyat Gulati, Mohd. Zeeshan Aayub, Samit Gambhir, Parv Kalia, Saurabh Chauhan, Manohar Pathak, Mukesh S. Bhatt, Hhiten Ttejwani, Lalit Ambardar & others

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