The crux of the newly-discovered creative freedom on the web-format is how effectively that freedom is used. "Rangbaaz" the new webseries about swaggering gangsterism in the badlands of Uttar Pradesh, scores pretty high in the sphere of restrained freedom.
The abuses are kept at a surprisingly low level. To depict the lowlife a filmmaker needn't stoop low. And though the characters belong to the crass roots they don't pump up their aggression level with perverse dialogues. In one section of the judiciously-crafted narration where frills and fireworks are never appended on for no reason, the protagonist Shiv Prakash Shukla (Saqib Saleem) is whisked off to Bangkok with a politician's goon.
The interlude could have comfortably embraced sleaze. Instead the narrative builds a credible camaraderie between the two men and a startling yet subtle game-plan for Shukla initiation into the world of crime.
"Rangbaaz" has nothing new to say about the genesis of crime and criminals in the cow belt. Depiction of exploitation of the weaker sections and the rise of the Criminal Hero has been a fairly routine formula in a certain kind of ground-level cinema patented by the likes of Anurag Kashyap and Tigmanshu Dhulia.
The latter, incidentally puts in quite a credible performance as a cunning politician on the prowl looking for young vulnerable recruits to his dirty job. The engrossing series is carpeted with solid performances, none more so that Saqib Saleem who nails Shukla's journey from innocence to a gleeful almost sadistic pleasure in taking lives…Saqib maps the darkening personality with a diligence that we never saw coming. This performance is an opportunity of a new awakening for the actor , and he nails it.
While telling a story that never slackens in pace "Rangbaaz" also makes space to apprise us of the political scenario of the 1990s when job reservations created a prominent caste cleft in North India.
Sturdily crafted and persuasively told, "Rangbaaz" brings alive the nexus between politics and crime in the 1990s , a nexus that has only grown with time. I only wish the series didn't have to rely so heavily on the film songs of the era to recreate an authentic mood of the period. It's like putting too many signposts on the road to perdition.
IANS Rating: 3 stars