In 2013 Raj Chakraborty gave us a film that would shake audiences up with its gritty subject, its take on the dark underbelly of rural Bengal and some stellar performances. The name of the film was Proloy, a film that has an immense cult following to this day. Personally, too, it remains one of my favourite Bengali films of the modern age, a film that blended gritty realism and massy pulp effortlessly, backed by a super screenplay, characters that have been etched deep into our memories, and an ensemble cast who each brought their A-game. Needless to say, given the fondness for the original film, there has been immense anticipation for the sequel, or more accurately the spinoff. I too was one of the countless people who had been eagerly waiting for it. The day it was released on Zee5, I ended up binge-watching the entire series. The question then is, does it live up to the expectations? Well, let me share my two cents on it.
Abar Proloy, Raj Chakraborty’s follow-up to his own popular film Proloy, is in a very unique place of its own. Ever since it was first announced that Abar Proloy is a web series, the common question on everybody’s mind has been — why this change in format? It’s a question that only Rajda himself can answer accurately but in my opinion, I cannot imagine a film would have been able to examine the premise of the show quite as effectively or in as much gory detail. Reasons perhaps being the runtime, censor board considerations, and so on. In that case, the story, characters, and incidents depicted in the show would perhaps have lost their impact and dare I say, charm.
Abar Proloy follows Animesh Dutta, the foul-mouthed, witty, no-nonsense super cop whom we were first introduced to in Proloy. He has been charged with busting a human trafficking ring that is operating out of the Sunderbans. AD swings into action swiftly, shaking things up almost immediately upon reaching the mangrove forests where either the tigers can get you or the crocodiles will. Except there is a new tiger on the prowl, his name is Animesh Dutta. As his investigation proceeds, other pieces come into play, dark truths start getting revealed, and the stakes start building up.
While the plot that is the heart of the show is disturbing, dark and complex, the show doesn’t let go of its fanfare moments in the form of witty one-liners and the “keora” qualities that are the trademark of Animesh Dutta. The canvas of the show is amongst the biggest ever in Bengali OTT content and it bodes brilliantly well for the show, primarily because of how well Manas Ganguly captures the mangrove landscape, the bare necessities of the villages and the action set pieces.
The screenplay gives ample space to the characters for development, switching between timelines effortlessly, without ever compromising with the build-up or tension. The detailing, look and feel are remarkable. Call it actors’ bias, but for me, the biggest takeaway from the show is the performances. Let’s start with the youngsters, specifically Pushan and Arya, who are brilliant in their respective portrayals. Lokenath Dey puts in yet another memorable performance as a crooked cop with a vendetta. Saayoni fits into her role effortlessly. Gaurav Chakrabarty, who has been unfairly typecast repeatedly as the mild-mannered, well-spoken, nice guy far too many times despite having proven at the very beginning of his career that he is equipped well enough as an actor to portray characters at the opposite end of the spectrum, had a difficult task at hand and he executes it with precision.
Sohini Sengupta plays a character that would perhaps have been relegated to no more than just comic relief nine times out of 10, but thanks to good writing and her absolutely brilliant performance, we get a layered character who is perhaps the most lovable in the entire show, also an effective commentary on women working in the lower ranks of law enforcement.
That Ritwik Chakraborty is one of our most versatile actors has been common knowledge for a very long time now. Yet, one cannot help but be awestruck by the effortless ease with which he blends into every character he portrays. Finally, the centrepiece — Saswata Chatterjee! The man’s mastery is to be marvelled at! He goes from beating a bunch of goons to a pulp to holding an adolescent girl in his embrace while delivering one of the most poignant lines of the show in a matter of seconds, both equally believable and done with equal conviction.
He comes back home on a special occasion, having missed the festivities because of his duty, sits alone stuffing himself with cake while his eyes well up and immediately lends a different perspective to Animesh Dutta, one that had never been explored before. The character goes from that of a supercop bordering along the lines of a superhero, to a more human, relatable person with responsibilities and emotions. Hats off to the creator and the actor for pulling it off.
There are a few jarring moments too, personally, my suspension of disbelief felt challenged on a few occasions. Namely, the age difference between the two actors when held against what had been established in the flashbacks of their respective characters. Abar Proloy is a thoroughly entertaining watch because it never pretends. It knows its audience, it knows what it’s meant to be and never tries to be a little bit of everything.
The plot isn’t mind-bending, keen viewers may well be able to decipher the events long before the climactic reveal. However, there isn’t a dull moment along the way. Perhaps it’s a little presumptuous on my part, but I believe Raj Chakraborty always set out to make a pulp series where the audiences would find reasons to hoot, whistle, cheer and laugh out loud like they would in a movie theatre while sitting in the comforts of their homes and on that front he delivers and then much more.
Abar Proloy does away with some of the gritty realism of its predecessor, but it’s so well made that one might be forgiven for not missing that aspect. It’s also replete with small moments that one would keep replaying in their head long after finishing the show. For example, the scene I mentioned earlier where Animesh Dutta is reading the letter written by his wife (played brilliantly by June in a brief but super effective appearance) with tears in the corners of his eyes. Or the scene where Animesh Dutta meets Shombhu Baba for the first time, Baba goes into a trance, throws his hands up in the air, skips and hops while Animesh Dutta breaks into a dance around him; several scenes involving Madhabi, the very first visuals of the show of a fishing boat caught in a hurricane.
So going back to the original question: Is it worth the hype? Well, there is a reason why netizens who have watched it are going gaga over it. In the short time that it has existed, the OTT medium seems to have become the go-to medium for smaller, more intimate content. But if the prospects of this medium are to expand, especially in Bengal, shows like Abar Proloy that promise and subsequently deliver an entertaining ride with a large mounting are a necessity. There is no other way to push the boundaries and do away with the limitations so that all types of content can manage to coexist and serve to a wider audience; we are seeing the same happen in industries of almost every language in the world. I seldom manage to sit down and finish shows or seasons in one sitting, but this one had me hooked. If there is one tip I would leave you with it’s this — don’t settle in too comfortably in the final moments of the show, you’ll find out why soon enough.