Amazon Prime’s ‘Tandav’: India’s Dumbest Political Drama Till Date
Sometime in 2019, Amazon decided to allocate a big juicy budget for their next successful web series after Mirzapur, Made In Heaven, Inside Edge, and Family Man- Tandav.
Around the same time, Ali Abbas Zafar, who proudly brags about being the mind behind Sultan and Tiger Zinda Hai (he also is the creator of Gunday), decided to be the mind behind this series that would go on to become India’s dumbest political drama ever.
If a quantification were to be made of how dumb Tandav is, one would say that it makes Raanjhana, another sloppy political drama from the JNU realm, look bearable.
First, one can’t simply dismiss this as a pathetic attempt at filmmaking. It’s not. Ali Abbas Zafar cannot be dismissed as some other guy in the Bollywood circuit.
He’s made a lot of money for Yash Raj Studios, one of the biggest production houses in the business, and way more money for Salman Khan (he last directed Bharat for him). Getting him on board must have been a big deal for Amazon too.
The actors cast for this show are also no amateurs by Bollywood or Indian Television standards.
Saif Ali Khan, Dimple Kapadia (who recently starred in a prominent role in Christopher Nolan’s Tenet), Sunil Grover, Kumud Mishra, and Tigmanshu Dhulia (not you, Dino Morea) are known for their acting prowess. Even Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, a student of the Swara School of Activism and Farhan School of Facts, has often been critically acclaimed for his acting.
The makers even managed to rope in some big names from television. For the people acquainted with Indian television across the 2000s and 2010s, Gauahar Khan, Anup Soni, Kritika Kamra, Sandhya Mridul, and Hiten Tejwani are some of the familiar faces who have gained a lot of popularity for their work on the small screen over the years.
However, in the end, this is as big a screw up as RGV Ki Aag or Aamir Khan’s Thugs Of Hindostan. It’s a Titanic that didn’t need an iceberg to sink. It’s that big a disaster.
Now, it’s naive to expect a show that is even a single per cent of what The West Wing was, or House of Cards was, or The Crown is.
Even with occasional yet not absolutely perfect gems like Madras Cafe, Yuva, Sarkar (not the sequels), Shanghai, Rajneeti (a good rip-off), and Gulaal, we have awful movies like Rang De Basanti, Nayak, Aarakshan, Rann, and countless other films.
To put it simply, intelligence isn’t one of the industry’s strengths established in Mumbai.
Tomorrow, if someone in Bollywood was asked to create a remake of The Social Network, chances are the story would have Rajkumar Rao creating the platform after being dumped by a girl on the day of their wedding, going on to crack IIT-JEE, writing an elaborate code, making tons of money, and all this in the backdrop of a super-cliched song that had once become the go-to track for all heart-broken UPSC aspirants, all in a year or two.
That’s routine Bollywood.
However, Tandav breaches all these barriers. As I watched the series on a quarantined night, I recalled my time watching Raanjhana on the big screen, and suddenly, it felt so better.
Amazon Prime’s marketing team must have also known that the series was a disaster when they would have seen the final product, given the lack of marketing around the series. The trailer of the series itself came out a mere week before the release.
When was the last time Saif Ali Khan or Ali Abbas Zafar had a release like that?
There are a few aspects to this series.
One, the social one. The series’ makers knew what they had to do to sell this broken toy to entertainment-starved audiences.
The show starts with the mocking of Hindu Gods, another routine in Bollywood, normalised by the lack of legal action taken against such creators.
If Hindu Gods aren’t enough, Brahmins have been abused, corporates have been abused, the police department of the biggest state in India has been abused, Delhi Police has been abused, upper castes have been abused, and of course, BJP and its voters have been abused (though it takes a careful viewing to realise that).
However, this wasn’t an accident. The makers were quite aware of what they were doing and why they were doing it. They wanted the eyeballs, the trends, the boycott calls, and they got it.
Two, the logical one.
JNU in real, where many were against the statue of Swami Vivekananda, becomes Vivekananda National University (VNU) in the reel world.
However, even by JNU standards, the protesting students of VNU of a certain department (not to be confused with all students of JNU or VNU) are so dumb that they would be ineligible for an IQ test conducted for kindergarten kids.
Led by one of the show’s protagonists, these students (who are rarely seen in classes) keep complaining about their anger within sitting in the college gardens. They want freedom from unemployment and poverty but hate SEZs and corporates.
Never once do we learn what they are angry about, what do they want, and who can give it to them. They come across as clueless as the farmers campaigning at Singhu border.
The political leaders of the show are no less. Prime Ministers are being decided on Twitter, where 40 million of 1,300 million Indians are.
It’s as easy to kill a sitting Prime Minister in this show as easy as it is for Kejriwal to offer freebies to gullible folks of Delhi. No state guest or foreign dignitary is present on the prime minister’s death.
Noida and the entire country has merely one news channel. An omnipresent personal guard/secretary has more state secrets than the state itself.
A woman can go around searching through trash cans for condom boxes in the country’s most secured area without being noticed. A 34-year-old can become a defence minister because she was in the Air Force. The politics of 1.3 billion people, 28 states, 9 UTs, is reduced to 100 stubborn students who can’t even explain themselves.
Never do we even get the math for the 543 Lok Sabha MPs, given how the government changes twice. Cabinet portfolios are handed out like candies in a birthday party. We see no mention of any Opposition faction in the Centre, any state CM, any regional party, or any other student group outside VNU.
There’s no policy talk except ‘all corporates are bad’. There are no instances of freebies and no judicial overreach even. This show has nothing to do with the real world. Turns out, one could spend the entire lockdown counting holes in the plot of this series and still come out of the lockdown with unfinished business.
No one expects accuracy from fiction series. No one expects, or should expect, newsrooms to run as idealistically as they run in The Newsroom, for governments to work as sincerely as that of the Democrats in The West Wing, but some resonance with the real world is warranted.
Some, at least, a single per cent, perhaps?
Given how the series has turned out. There are some schools of thought going around.
One, the ones who want the routine abuse of Hindus and their Gods in it to be ignored because it brings traction to the series. However, it’s a bad idea. One can’t ignore the fire in their closet, thinking it will not burn the home down if one does not look at it.
Tandav justifies the need to have OTT platforms under government regulation. It’s not ideal, sure, but filmmakers are too demeaning towards Hindus and their Gods, misinformed and naive to be left with complete freedom. Not perfect, but it is what it is.
A few cut scenes do not amount to censorship. India is the only country for Hindus in the world, and it’s not much to ask for their dignity and the dignity of their Gods.
Their Gods cannot be paraded on the reel as social media sensations, mocking and abusing, as in the opening sequence of this series. It’s unacceptable for Hindusim, as it is for any other religion.
Two, the school of boycotting. Well, it does not work. Like Prime, OTT platforms do not offer the streaming service alone but are also linked to other benefits like faster delivery for orders.
As super apps’ culture gains traction in the future, these bundled services will be the norm.
Expecting someone to discard their Formula 1, IPL, Marvel, and other OTT offerings for one movie or series is irrational, especially when people spend more time in their homes.
The way forward for people on the Right is simple. Counter the narrative. Encourage filmmakers and filmmaking to support the alternative voice, the real voice, and the right voice. It’s not too late for starters to begin considering the idea of a community coming together to produce a film via donations, leaving the technical work to stalwarts from the industry.
Tandav is dumb, but that won’t stop Amazon, Disney, or Netflix from funding more illogical and irrational shows. Tandav is demeaning towards Hindus and Hinduism, but that will not prevent more creators from taking the same route unless a counter-narrative is produced and hosted on the same platforms.
One hopes the makers of Tandav are not expecting any congratulatory emails or job offers from Harvard University for creating India’s dumbest political show till date.
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