Breathe review: R Madhavan’s Amazon show is the weirdest thing on TV right now. You’ve got to see it to believe it
Cast – R Madhavan, Amit Sadh, Sapna Pabbi
Rating – 3.5/5
Once again, Amazon has beaten Netflix to the punch. Breathe, featuring R Madhavan in the lead role, is only the second Indian live-action series produced by the streaming giant, to be closely (or not) followed by Netflix’s first, Sacred Games, starring Saif Ali Khan. It’s a funny coincidence that both Amazon and Netflix chose to enter the Indian original series space with a gritty Mumbai crime story anchored by legit movie stars (not A-list, but certainly not B-list either).
And that’s about where Breathe finds itself, neither here nor there. Not even close to rubbing shoulders with some of the other prestigious TV shows available online these days, but not nearly as unwatchable as some of those shows on regular channels either.
Is it the smartest show out there? No. Is it the strangest, most bizarre show I’ve seen this year? Heck, yes.
But that’s part of its charm. It’s the sort of show in which the alcoholic cop takes too many swigs from his hip flask, the Catholics pray to Jesus too often, and the sleazy sidekick watches way too much porn. Every beat, every emotion, character trait and plot twist is delivered with such immense force that even a comatose person would be able to keep up with the proceedings. And if, on the off chance, you find yourself losing the plot, the show will pause and have a character (or a conveniently timed flashback) explain it to you.
Here it is, in a nutshell: Madhavan plays a loving single dad named Danny, whose 6-year-old son is suffering from a congenital lung disease. The sight of young Josh with pipes and tubes sticking out of him is a source of tremendous pain for Danny, whose steadfast belief in doing things by the book seems to be crumbling by the day. Josh is number four on the list to get a new lung, which means that four donors would have to die before it’s his turn to be saved. But time — as the pretty doctor for whom Danny seems to be developing feelings says — is running out for Josh. At her estimation, he has barely six months to live.
After much deliberation, the mild-mannered Danny decides to take what can politely be described as a rather drastic step. A quick warning before I tell you what it is: this absolutely insane development happens in the opening episode, and is basically revealed in the trailer. So it’s not much of a spoiler. But words cannot express the utter lunacy that had to have gone into coming up with it. So here goes: Danny (who runs a soccer academy by day and enjoys a nice piece of cake now and then with his dinners) decides to systematically murder the four strangers on the organ donors’ list so that his son can be saved.
To do that, he builds a lair in a storage locker (decorated with way too many footballs because he’s a football coach. And even though that particular fact has zero implications to the plot, it’s the only way Breathe knows how to develop character). He also takes several pictures of random stuff: of people he’s targeting, of buildings he wants to infiltrate and of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link. Why? Your guess is as good as mine.
Meanwhile, a separate plot that involves an alcoholic masquerading as a cop (both played by Amit Sadh) plays out in exactly the manner that you’d imagine. Kabir Sawant is the type of cop who doesn’t play by the rules, which in this show’s world means that he drinks a lot, is going through a divorce, and crucially, has lost a young daughter. Despite his handicaps, he notices a pattern in a series of seemingly unrelated deaths (with the help of some laugh-out-loud deduction skills).
Think of Breathe as one of Keigo Higashino’s least popular novels, adapted by Colin Trevorrow in proper Book of Henry form, and directed by one of Anurag Kashyap’s minions.
There is no poetry to what sets the two men on a collision course with each other. There is no larger point that is made. This is no grand, sweeping morality tale about men turning into monsters. It’s simply a story about one desperate man who comes up with a ridiculously unnecessary plan (which would immediately fail, mind you, had things like CCTVs and intelligent human beings existed in the world of Breathe), and one caricature of a weathered cop who solves the mysteries mostly by accident.
Every self-respecting fan of movies should have already guessed how this thing plays out. Three episodes were made available for preview, and I’m fairly confident I can predict the ending.
None of this, I must stress, makes Breathe a bad show. In fact, it’s quite enjoyable, in a completely bonkers way. For a while, I was confused about what exactly it was going for, but two quick moments cleared every doubt.
The first happened when Madhavan bounds into a room and gives his son a burger to eat. Only, he calls it a pizza. Strange, right? It was as disorientating as you’d expect, to watch that happen, mostly because you could see the burger right there in front of you — the bun, the patty, even a side of chips. So why in the name of decency would he call it a pizza? The mind boggles. The second instance was even more peculiar. In it, Madhavan reads his son bits of Harry Potter. He also mentions Harry and the cupboard under the stairs and everything. But the book in his hand is something else entirely. In fact, it looks like a large picture book meant for toddlers. What. The. Hell.
Unless these two moments indicate a future plot twist that involves parallel universes and surreal alternate dimensions, Breathe has to be one of weirdest things on TV right now. How could you not want to check it out?
Watch the Breathe trailer here