Filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj makes an enjoyable web series debut with Charlie Chopra and the Mystery of Solang Valley, transposing an Agatha Christie murder mystery set in Dartmoor to the hills of Manali.
Bhardwaj passes up Christie’s famous detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple for the relatively lesser-known Emily Trefusis, a sharp young woman who stars in the novel The Sittaford Mystery, and turns her into a feisty Punjabi girl Charlie Chopra. Here’s what we loved about the thriller streaming on SonyLIV.
A whodunnit set in the hills
The story begins with a group of people gathered in a cottage in Solang Valley for a séance, led by the medium Dr Rai (Naseeruddin Shah), on a stormy evening. During the session, a spirit named ‘Lady Rose’ foretells the death of Brigadier Rawat (Gulshan Grover). While the guests initially dismiss it as mere entertainment, Rawat’s former colleague, Colonel Barua (Baharul Islam), decides to venture through a treacherous snowstorm to check on the brigadier in Manali. His instincts prove correct as he discovers the wealthy brigadier murdered in his home. The local police hastily nab Jimmy (Vivaan Shah), the brigadier’s nephew, as the prime suspect.
Unwilling to buy into the police’s version, Jimmy’s fiancee Charlie Chopra arrives in Manali to clear his name. Charlie dives deeper into the investigation and unravels a web of suspects, each with a vested interest in Rawat’s property. The central question becomes whether Charlie can clear her fiance’s name and bring the culprit to book.
The list of suspects is long. Take Manas (Chandan Roy Sanyal), for example. He is a failed writer living off his wife Saloni’s (Paoli Dam) wealth. Wilayat Hussain (Lara Dutta) claims to have come from Dubai but has skeletons in her closet. There’s Mrs Bharucha (Ratna Pathak Shah), a prying neighbour, and Janki (Neena Gupta), a counsellor who grows ganja in the basement of her house as a side hustle. Every character is financially dependent on Brigadier Rawat and therefore has a motive.
The screenplay by Vishal Bhardwaj, Anjum Rajabali and Jyotsna Hariharan maintains a suspenseful and brisk pace across the six episodes, with Bhardwaj adding his own twist to Christie’s climax in the finale. The snowy Manali and the picturesque Solang Valley make for a chilling atmosphere, thanks to cinematographer Tassaduq Hussain.
Wamiqa Gabbi wins the show
After a stellar supporting act in Vikramaditya Motwane’s period series Jubilee, Wamiqa Gabbi has the title role in Charlie Chopra and the Mystery of Solang Valley, and she nails it with ease. Wamiqa combines her striking appearance and Punjabi spirit to channel the fiery side of her character. Bhardwaj gets Charlie to break the fourth wall often, making her even more fascinating.
Priyanshu Painyuli plays Charlie’s worthy assistant in the search for truth. Priyanshu’s Sitaram is a journalist who is sent to Solang Valley to dig up dirt on the suspects to pump up the TRP of the TV channel he works for. Charlie and Sitaram get off on the wrong foot but become a Sherlock Holmes-Dr Watson duo soon enough.
The ensemble cast is packed with powerful actors — Neena Gupta, Ratna Pathak Shah, Naseeruddin Shah, Gulshan Grover, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Paoli Dam, Lara Dutta, Imaad Shah and Vivaan Shah — but there’s not enough screen time to do them justice.