In the autumn of 2009, a school teacher Mohan Kumar was arrested from a small village on the outskirts of Mangaluru. Dressed in plain formal clothes, the modest-looking man would teach physical education to primary classes in South Karnataka. He was a family man living a middle-class life with no reason for anyone to suspect.
When the gruesome murders of 20 women were uncovered and linked to each other, the police tracked down the serial killer and found it to be the unlikely Mohan Kumar. Shortly after, the story of the serial killer spread and he came to be known as ‘Cyanide Mohan’, for he would elope with women in their mid-20s or early 30s and give them contraceptive pills laced with cyanide and ask them to take it in a public toilet before they went ahead to marry. A few hours later, their dead bodies would be recovered from the public toilets.
Actor Vijay Varma, who brings to life this serial killer character as Hindi literature professor Anand Swarnakar in Amazon Prime Video’s Dahaad, plays the role with Kumar’s ease and modesty, yet a passive aggressive approach that convinces the audience of Varma’s intentions.
The initial episodes entail the story of two missing women and a made-up case of ‘love jihad’ that is further fuelled by ‘yellow-flagged guardians of the religion’ who want to save their daughters from the clutches of men from another religion (an Altaf). Even as the missing girls are of legal age to marry, they seek justice and the arrest of Altaf, when the police realise the case is much beyond that of 'love jihad' as other girls go missing.
The story that has been inspired from 'Cyanide Mohan' finds actors Sonakshi Sinha and Gulshan Devaiah portraying the roles of police officers investigating the case. Gulshan Devaiah as Devilal Singh plays a cop with restraint and professionalism. While Devaiah’s acting prowess is not unknown, Sinha surprises with her Anjali Bhaati – a young female Dalit cop fighting the caste system and patriarchy, which is extremely prevalent around her by being an unabashed part of the system.
Gulshan Devaiah and Vijay Varma packed in a crime thriller together prove to be the biggest draws and Sonakshi is at her refreshing best without overdoing any bits.
She makes her stance abundantly clear – she is educated, independent, fearless, yet is faced with sexist and caste remarks in every walk of her life – be it her workplace, her marriage prospects, victims who refuse entry to her citing her caste and even the serial killer who declare she must be punished for being born a low caste. Her mother is grateful when she manages to find a groom for her daughter and pays the pundit extra when he manages to find her a match even after their caste dilemma.
The theme of caste discrimination and patriarchy is further explored in the eight-part series when Anand Swarnakar targets women of only low caste and meek backgrounds and calls them ‘loose’ for agreeing to be with a man easily and justifies his doing.
What wins is the fact that every character in the series has a story of their own and does not exist to push the story forward or be a prop to the protagonists. Anand Swarnakar’s wife is in the middle of an extra-marital affair and plans on leaving her husband, Anjali Bhaati is in a relationship while battling the pressures of getting married, Devilal Singh’s wife feels neglected and suspects him of having an affair, cop Kailash Parghi is dealing with the dilemma of having or not having a child. Yet, the series does not deviate and end up becoming an overall mess but packs the action and intermingles the stories together to make it one whole good clear script; director Reema Kagti and screenwriters Kagti, Zoya Akhtar and Ritesh Shah deserve credit.
The series that could have been heavy and overwhelming with the social messaging, intertwined plots and stories emerge as a fair play. It concludes with Sinha (Anjali Bhaat) finally unmasking her dalit identity and changing her surname to her original one - Meghwal and proudly wearing her caste as a badge on her sleeve as she manages to put the serial killer behind the bar.
Web Series: Dahaad on Amazon Prime Video
Director: Reema Kagti, Ruchika Oberoi
Cast: Vijay Varma, Gulshan Devaiah, Sonakshi Sinha, Sohum Shah