Do you remember Madhavan Balaji Ranganathan, also known as R. Madhavan? He is an Indian actor, writer and film producer who was the lead actor in several movies, including 3 Idiots and Rehna Hai Tere Dil Mai, but then suddenly disappeared from the Bollywood Industry.
Similarly, Nithya Menen and Abhishek Bachchan, amongst others, met the same fate. The sudden rise in web series, however, has opened doors for these incredible performers and put them among their fans once again. I am thankful to OTT platforms and web-series who gave us the opportunity to re-watch their charisma unfurl on the screen.
In season one of the 2018 Amazon Prime series Breathe, a father goes on a killing spree to keep his son alive. In the second season, also created by Mayank Sharma, a father justifies a murder in order to save his daughter. In both the seasons, a father kills to improve an immunocompromised child’s chances of staying alive. When Delhi-based psychiatrist Avinash Sabharwal’s daughter Siya (Ivana Kaur) gets kidnapped, Avinash (Abhishek Bachchan) and his wife Abha (Nithya Menen) meticulously plan murders to meet the kidnapper’s demands in order to free their child.
A well-off and educated couple cave in and easily become killers, with the simple justification that all is fair if you are trying to save your family. The kidnapper invokes the 10 traits represented by each of Ravana’s 10 heads — anger, lust, ego, fear and so on — for the murders to be committed (It’s impossible not to think of the similarity with David Fincher’s 1995 thriller Se7en). But Avinash thinks he can outwit the kidnapper because, after all, he is a specialist in “mind games”.
For that to happen, the story (written by Sharma, Bhavani Iyer, Vikram Tuli and Arshad Syed) would have to follow the logic, be constructed intelligently, and be creative and original. Instead, we see a catalogue of cliches associated with the genre of murder mystery. Despite all the commuting by the characters within and around Delhi, the story itself crawls along.
Barring the kidnapper’s story, the other characters swivel in a single spot. I bet you’d guess the criminal’s identity before hitting mid-point of this bloated 12-episode series. The Delhi police team in charge of the case is at a loss as videos of these brutal crimes beam across television channels. Joining in their efforts are inspector Kabir Sawant (Amit Sadh) and his trusted deputy Prakash Kamble (Hrishikesh Joshi) from the first season.
Kabir is carrying the emotional baggage of a thoughtless act, and guilt draws him to Delhi, where he reacquaints himself with Meghna (Plabita Borthakur), his victim from the past. Not only is Meghna now a sponsor at Narcotics Anonymous, she’s also a chirpy, life-positive young woman who has named her wheelchair “Max”.
Sadh literally carries the burden of a traumatised Kabir, who has lost his daughter and his equilibrium, on his muscular shoulders. His character barely rises out of the pit of gloom and only occasionally shows a flash of edgy police work, partially egged on by an ambitious and publicity-hungry senior officer. Kabir should have been the binding element between the two seasons, but his part is relegated to the wings. Credit, though, to Sadh for conveying the pain and fleeting pleasures of a man coming out of the shadows.
Nithya Menen and Abhishek Bachchan are fettered by the material and look as bewildered at the vapid writing. There was an opportunity to explore childhood trauma and mental health issues here, but it’s unharnessed. Notable performances come from supporting cast members, such as Saiyami Kher, Resham Shrivardhan, Shruti Bapna and Nizhalgal Ravi. Most of the twists can be seen coming an episode in advance. A dozen episodes of 45 minutes each give you plenty of time to join the dots and take a coffee break without missing anything crucial to the inflated and exposition-heavy plot.
Any gains made by production, background music, art direction and cinematography of the series are lost by its writing and editing. A side-plot of two sub-inspectors vying for Kabir’s attention is negated by a pointless sidebar about a recently-transferred employee juggling a wife’s nagging with flirtation with an old flame. The season was filmed before the pandemic and lockdown, but watching it in this environment, and seeing men in N95 masks and a germaphobe obsessively sanitising his surroundings resonated in a very strange way.