If there is anyone in Bollywood who can pull off a brooding, angsty, guilt-ridden protagonist, it has to be Ajay Devgn. In Rudra, Devgn wears the eponymous character like second skin, giving us someone who is a superhero cop and yet wears his vulnerability on his sleeve. Even when Rudra, the web series that’s now showing on Disney+Hotstar, falters — which it does pretty often — Devgn’s Rudra quite consistently manages to pull it back from ‘the edge of darkness’.
Rudra: The Edge of Darkness is a more or less faithful adaptation of Luther. The widely acclaimed British series, frontlined by the indomitable Idris Elba, ran over five successful seasons and added dimension, depth and density to the often predictable police procedural template. The Indian version follows the one-case-per-episode format of the original, with Rudra’s brilliant mind, often challenged by his emotionally impulsive nature, lending both heft and heart to the series.
When we first meet DCP Rudraveer Singh, he’s perched on the edge of the terrace of a building. A few minutes later, he throws a man off the ledge, in what is a form of vigilante justice. From the very beginning, we are told that Rudra does things his own way. While most in the system dismiss him as a “risk”, his superior (Ashwini Kalsekar does the walk and talk like a true bawse) looks at Rudra as an “asset”. The first episode brings Rudra face to face with a freaky genius called Aaliyah Choksi (a red-headed Raashii Khanna) who has, by her own admission, committed a double murder, but has covered up her tracks well enough to avoid being caught. Aaliyah refers to herself as “thoda random, thoda kooky”, and before long, she develops an unspoken connection with Rudra. Alice Morgan, played by Ruth Wilson in Luther, was a compelling character, her time with Luther providing the series some of its most bizarre as well as addicting moments. Raashii has the nonchalance down pat, but struggles to make Aaliyah captivating.
What’s fairly engrossing, however, are the nemeses Rudra is up against. They range from a brainwashed former service man to a serial killer with fetishistic tendencies, a semi-occult leader to eventually one of his own. All the while, Rudra — given to smashing anything within arm’s length when he flies into a rage — battles his own demons, including an estranged relationship with his wife Shaila (a one-note Esha Deol Takhtani), who has found love and companionship somewhere else.
In Rudra, Ajay Devgn sheds his larger-than-life Singham-ness to fully embrace a man whose flaws almost threaten to consume him, but whose honesty and integrity can never be questioned. Devgn wears a harrowed look throughout, his eyes speaking more than his words, and his mercurial disposition often coming in the way of him forging meaningful relationships.
Like Luther in the original, Rudra’s brilliant mind goes to places where others don’t. While that results in many a ‘eureka’ moment for Rudra, you, as the viewer, somehow feel cheated of an in-depth investigative thriller that the series had the potential to be. For those not familiar with Luther, however, Rudra has enough to keep one hooked.
Mumbai acquires an almost dystopian look in Rudra, and if you can ignore the palette that reminds one of director Sanjay Gupta’s semi-disasters, then you will gradually discover that Rudra’s atmospherics have a significant contribution to make in what unfolds over its six episodes. However, the show does little to localise its content and context, deriving little from the city to add to its narrative.
Rudra ends on a note that makes Season 2 a given. Despite its flaws, we are more than ready to sign up for another meeting with Devgn’s brooding (super)hero.
Rudra: the edge of darkness
Director: Rajesh Mapuskar
Cast: Ajay Devgn, Raashii Khanna, Esha Deol Takhtani, Atul Kulkarni, Ashwini Kalsekar, Ashish Vidyarthi, Satyadeep Misra, Tarun Gahlot