Taranath Tantrik review: Q's Innovative horror series comes short of becoming a classic, thanks to his indulgences
With Taranath Tantrik, Q has created what is essentially a truly Indian horror show — one that is neither pedestrian nor totally highbrow.
Gandu director Qaushik Mukherjee, more popularly known as Q, has come up with a Bengali occult horror web series titled Taranath Tantrik. The series deals with the origins and supernatural experiences of an elderly astrologer named Taranath, a self-proclaimed student and practitioner of the Tantric arts, and who, having failed to achieve the highest level of mastery over said arts, now lives an austere life telling fortunes and narrating stories from his life to a duo of eager listeners.
Based on the series of short stories written by veteran Bengali author Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay (the series was later completed by his son Taradas Bandyopadhyay), Q’s version is a retelling of sorts, while keeping the spirit of the original intact. While there are several brilliant elements that the series can deservedly boast of, it does suffer from the indulgences that its maker is known to take — wherein the vessel seems to become more important than the content. But if you are willing to make your way around such known issues and willing to invest in the series, you will realise that it is one of the very few original and innovative projects that we have seen in the desi horror space in recent years.
Broadly speaking, the series can be divided into two parts. There are a few episodes (out of a total of 10) which are devoted to the life of Taranath — his origins, his difficult tutelage under various gurus of the dark arts and his experiences with love, spirituality and carnal desires. The second can be described as the various ‘cases’ which come his way, in which his help is sought to cast out a malicious spirit or explain a mysterious paranormal phenomenon. The second category is also how he earns his livelihood. The Second World War is on, two young men — a writer and his friend — become acquainted with the titular tantrik and are immediately captivated by the richness of his experience, and the way he tells his stories. They keep going back to him, and he keeps telling them stories — either for the love of his favourite brand of cigarettes, or to get a long-standing load off his chest. It becomes obvious right from the beginning that between the two members of the audience, it is the writer who is more skeptical and irreverent. But the tantrik does not seem to mind, apparently, for he knows how shallow the knowledge of these two city-slickers is. In fact, he seems to enjoy the irreverence at times — it seems to work as a welcome departure from his otherwise fruitless and uneventful life.
By a very long margin, the most brilliant feature of the series is its eerie background score, created by Dipankar ‘Jojo’ Chaki and Q himself. It is what sets the series miles apart from some of the other takes we have seen on the occult in the past. There is a constant sense of premonition and hopelessness that the music succeeds in building — something that is absolutely imperative in the genre that Taranath Tantrik is based on. I was also extremely impressed by the title credits, featuring some amazing illustrations by Sambaran Das and Arka Alam. These arts, as well as the art direction, cinematography and production design together lend a rather grunge look to the series — almost as if it has stepped out of the pages of a graphic novel. They also reminded me of the rich treasure trove of speculative fiction that has existed in Bengali literature for a very long time.
Among the performances, Jayant Kripalani is a sight to behold every time he comes on screen. I cannot imagine anyone else who could have done better justice to the role. The protagonist is slightly lost, slightly ridiculing, and slightly regretful — and Kripalani plucks all these traits like ripe fruits and gobbles them up. The outcome is sheer brilliance. In comparison — which may be an unfair thing to do — Koushik Ray pales as the young Taranath, not because he does not put in a genuine effort, but simply because his efforts show.
There are several problems with the way the series has been executed though. We spoke about the indulgences in which the creator seems to roll. While the first three or four episodes are extremely taut and uncharacteristically devoid of Q’s easily identifiable signature (which is a good thing), the second half — especially the last two episodes — get a less fortunate treatment. The inevitable result is sheer fatigue by the end of it all. I genuinely liked the way the series took off, and with the superlative execution in the first half and thanks to the chilling jump scares, the sinister locales and the overall hopelessness in the atmosphere, I was rooting for a series that was well on its way to become a cult classic. Alas, somewhere by the seventh episode, I began to tire out. The psychedelics became all too exhausting and an unfair amount of time was spent on ornamentation rather than storytelling. I lost the series and the series lost me by the ninth episode, although I did manage to hang around till the end – not without great difficulty, I might add.
Having said all that, I must commend Q for having created what is essentially a truly Indian horror show — one that is neither pedestrian nor totally highbrow. It is an interesting experiment in art and an experience that is best enjoyed while keeping an open mind.
Taranath Tantrik is currently streaming on Hoichoi.
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