She is cat-called as she rides around town on her motorbike; at the cop station where she works, a colleague lights incense to ‘purify’ the room she has been in, a superior officer she reports to, offers her ‘special’ tea in a suggestive tone—the price Anjali Bhaati has to pay for being female and from a lower caste in the conservative Rajasthan town of Mandawa.
Dahaad (on Amazon Prime), directed by Reema Kagti and Ruchika Oberoi, is an efficiently-made, gorgeously shot (Tanay Satam) police procedural, which keeps the socio-political realities of the milieu in mind.
Anjali played by Sonakshi Sinha (who may not look it, but acts it), has to toughen up to survive in that environment; so she dresses like a man, and develops that authoritative way of speaking that drives away prospective grooms her mother (Jayati Bhatia) lines up for her. Her immediate superior Devilal Singh (Gulshan Devaiah treats her with the respect she deserves as a good cop, even if it leads to the jealousy of a colleague, Kailash Parghi (Sohum Shah), and gossip about their relationship.
The other important character is Hindi professor, Anand Swarnakar (Vijay Varma), a pleasant family man, who hides a dark secret perversion.
A lower caste man’s complaint about his missing sister is repeatedly rebuffed by the cops, who are convinced she ran off with a lover. When a Muslim man’s elopement with a Hindu woman causes more political turbulence in Mandawa, it takes dogged investigation by Anjali to find clues that lead to more clues and then the shocking discovery that 29 women have been murdered by a man with the same modus operandi. In most cases, the parents do not even file a complaint, because a daughter running off to marry a boyfriend saves them the back-breaking expense of dowry.
Anjali, Devi and Parghi with the reluctant approval by their boss, and the help of a smart computer techie, slowly link the many clues, and are faced with a criminal smarter and more devious than any they may have encountered in their careers.
Despite the apathy, the half-hearted allotment of resources, and turbulence in their own families, the three work tirelessly to close in on the suspect, who is able to con women so easily, because of the way women are treated if they are unmarried by a certain age. To be able to get rid of the social stigma and the contempt of their own families, the trusting women end up dead in public toilets after being robbed of their cash and jewellery.
The show created by Zoya Akhtar and Kagti, places the eight-part show authentically within a particular milieu, that raises it above the generic cop thrillers that regularly pop up on streaming channels. The production design is detailed, the landscapes and exteriors of weathered desert buildings are beautiful to look at, and the performances are consistently good, even by actors in small parts. If there’s a Season 2, it is likely to be a Silence Of The Lambs kind of mindgame between Anjali and Anand. OTT has created a heroine for and of the times, and Sonakshi Sinha gets a breakthrough role at last.
Directed by Reema Kagti, Ruchika Oberoi
Cast: Sonakshi Sinha, Gulshan Devaiah, Sohum Shah,Vijay Varma and others
On Amazon Prime