Afsos review: Amazon’s new Indian show is a pitiful letdown, undeserving of Gulshan Devaiah

Afsos review: Amazon Prime’s new Indian series, starring Gulshan Devaiah as a suicidal loser, is a giant let-down after The Family Man and Made in Heaven.
Afsos review: Gulshan Devaiah plays a suicidal loser in Amazon Prime’s latest Indian series.
Afsos review: Gulshan Devaiah plays a suicidal loser in Amazon Prime’s latest Indian series.
Updated on Feb 07, 2020 11:35 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByRohan Naahar

Director - Anubhuti Kashyap
Cast - Gulshan Devaiah, Anjali Patil, Heeba Shah, Danish Sait, Dhruv Sehgal 

On several occasions in Amazon Prime Video’s latest Indian show, Afsos, you’ll see the word ‘Fargo’ printed on random objects. There’s a large vehicle with ‘Fargo’ written on its exterior, and inside the vehicle there is a notebook with the same word printed on its cover.

If you’re fans of the classic Coen Brothers film, or of the spin-off series inspired by it, this reference would likely pique your interest in Afsos. It’s like (a less subtle version of) Kundan Shah and Sudhir Mishra dropping Antonioni’s name in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro. But unlike that cult classic, the Fargo reference in Afsos has little thematic or intellectual relevance. It’s just a word, like a throwaway mention of comedian Biswa Kalyan Rath in a later episode, presumably inserted in the show only to make you light up with recognition, and then wonder what to make of it.

Watch the Afsos trailer here 

The emptiness of this allusion, unfortunately, is also emblematic of the rest of the show, which far too often relies on coincidences and illogical leaps to propel its plot. If it were truly a devotee of the Coens, it would have spent more time on constructing an airtight structure, on mimicking that irreverent tone the brothers are so recognisable for, and co-opting some of their masterful visual storytelling.

But writers and co-creators Anirban Dasgupta and Dibya Chatterjee, and director Anubhuti Kashyap seem to be unclear about what they’re trying to say with the story. Is it about big city loneliness? Is it about destiny and faith? Is it about the privilege of the urban male? Who knows. It’s almost as if the writing duo came up with a killer set-up, but then balked under the pressure of landing a satisfying punchline.

Afsos tells the story of a suicidal man named Nakul (Gulshan Devaiah), who despite his best attempts, can’t seem to be able to kill himself. When we first meet him, he’s giving suicide another shot, lying on railway tracks, but making sure to not compromise on his comfort. His therapist is convinced his heart is not into it, and during one ridiculous confrontation, thrusts a knife into his hands and taunts him to slit his wrists.

But destiny (and poor writing) presents Nakul with another option, one that will get the job done without him having to do the dirty work himself. An enterprising woman has started a business through which she offers to assassinate suicidal folks willing to pay her for it. She’s the one who operates out of the van littered with Fargo references.

Except the lady, unlike Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare’s small-time criminals from Fargo, works with a hired gun, to whom she assigns Nakul’s contract. Like nearly everyone else in Afsos, it is virtually impossible to identify what drives Upadhyay, the hit-woman, to do what she does. She carries out her duties with single-minded devotion, and chases Nakul with the relentlessness of a T-800, but also with a suspicious ineptitude that sort of captures the vibe of the show.

Gulshan Devaiah in a still from Afsos.
Gulshan Devaiah in a still from Afsos.

There are also parallel plots involving a sadhu tasked with protecting a vial of elixir, an Uttarakhand cop assigned with tracking down a serial killer, and a couple of distracted house painters looking to kill time. The less we get into those the better. For one, it would be a spoiler, but more importantly, unraveling these threads would probably open Afsos up for more criticism.

We can’t, and shouldn’t, avoid discussing the uniformly poor performances of its cast, though. Besides Devaiah, who miraculously finds puddles of relevance in Nakul’s barren landscape of a personality, the other actors are left at sea thanks to the thin writing. With so little to chew on, most of them feel the need to overcompensate, hamming it up in the hope that the pitch of their performances would distract from the meaninglessness of what they’re saying.

It’s a pity (pun fully intended), that the show couldn’t make a case for itself, especially after the surprisingly terrific The Family Man and the admittedly interesting premise, but in this competitive environment, it needed to be so much better than it is.

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The author tweets @RohanNaahar

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Tuesday, June 28, 2022