Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein: Tahir Raj Bhasin is what Shah Rukh Khan could have been in a Netflix show
Tahir Raj Bhasin's layered performance reminds one of what Shah Rukh Khan could have achieved had he been given the luxury of six hours of runtime to build a character and live through the conflict.
When a thriller show is titled Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein, you are half-expecting the woman to be thrown off a high-rise anytime. That was the twist in the tale in Abbas-Mustan's 1993 blockbuster Baazigar, where Shah Rukh Khan appreciates his girlfriend Shilpa Shetty's feet — before pushing her off the roof of a building.
But the protagonist of Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein, Vikrant (Tahir Raj Bhasin), can get his wife Purva (Anchal Singh) only to the edge, but never beyond. He lacks what SRK probably described as the key trait to playing the negative roles he did — possession.
When Imtiaz Ali's Jab Harry Met Sejal (2017) released, SRK told me in an interview that it was one of the rare couple of instances where he played a grey role, after Karan Johar's Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006). "I find it very tough. I can play white, and even black, characters well because both have to do with possession. And I get what it's like to be possessive."
SRK was possessive for love in Yash Chopra's Darr (1991), possessive for revenge in Baazigar, and possessive for business in Rahul Dholakia's Raees (2017). He could even play Don in Farhan Akhtar's 2006 film though that character did not have any justification for being bad. But he was also possessive for his image — of being a criminal who can never be caught.
Vikrant, however, is on the other side. He has to battle everything that accompanies possession. His odds are stacked by Purva, who is the possessive one, as she blurts out rather conveniently in one scene. The only thing Vikrant is determined about is breaking out of the cycle of subservience that his father (Brijendra Kala) has been stuck in for his whole life, as the chief accountant to a local politician (Saurabh Shukla), also the possessive father of Purva.
But that determination to lead a life on his own terms has little to do with obsession or possession, and more to do with the fundamental right of a modern-day Indian youth to choose his career trajectory. He assumes it'd be fairly simple if he just speaks his mind to his father's boss that he does not want to work in his office or if he confesses to Purva that he does not love her back. After all, love and ambition have always been celebrated, like in the case of SRK films like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.
Also, DDLJ released over 26 years ago, in the turmoil that India was undergoing after liberalisation. Today, choice, both in one's personal and professional lives, is a given. But the political power nexus of Uttar Pradesh not only yanks Vikrant down to the ground with a thud, but also infiltrates his love life. The 'kaali kaali ankhein' is symbolic of both the seductive eyes of a privileged seductress and the prying eyes of the political ecosystem that empowers her.
But despite being the victim, it takes Vikrant six episodes to gravely injure someone, seven episodes to hire a contract killer, and eighth to attempt assassination of his wife. By that time, he has already encountered a hijacked career, a forced marriage, and death threats to loved ones.
Similarly, it takes Sushmita Sen's titular character an entire season of Aarya to get killed Shekhawat, a local goon blackmailing her for drug supply. That too, not sans consequence: she almost gets killed by Shekhawat's father as a consequence in the second season. It takes her two seasons to shoot someone for the first time, and that too her biological father. Despite getting the patriarch out of the way, Aarya cannot escape the patriarchal system of crime and power, and becomes a don herself. She decides to hunt in order to stop getting hunted.
Vikrant also defends his actions towards the end of Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhen with the same philosophy. "An imaandaar (honest) person turns to dishonesty not because he is beimaan (dishonest) but because he wants to be imaandar again." Despite the poetically just philosophy, enough reasons to turn vengeful, and the vision of a better life with his girlfriend Shikha [Shweta Tripathi], and also YouTube tutorials on how to shoot, Vikrant finds it impossible to pull the trigger.
Some credit must go to his father, whom he blames entirely for his predicament, for keeping him immune to the mess around them. But a large part of it must also be accorded to Vikrant, whose spine does not turn ductile despite the constant hammering.
Tahir Raj Bhasin brings endless sincerity to his part, which helps the viewers grasp why a victim cannot become a perpetrator even if that may feel like the 'right thing to do.'
Bhasin has played the cool villain in his debut film Mardaani, and the follow-up Force 2, so everyone knows he has it in him to embrace the dark shades. But having been given an opportunity, with the luxury of screen time worth at least six hours, has allowed him to display every turn in his character arc with commendable empathy.
I am sure SRK would have loved to do a Vikram too. I don't think he can't do grey roles because he can only play possessive parts. I think his reluctance stems more from the fact that he never got the chance. He was prey to not only trappings of a superstar but also of the three-hour film runtime that was always in a rush to label its protagonist. He was either a hero or a villain but never a self-doubting human.
The closest he came to be one in his heydays was in another Abbas-Mustan film, Badshah (1999). His titular character gets entangled in a conspiracy web, and is cornered to assassinate the chief minister Gayatri Devi (Rakhee Gulzar) to save his abducted friends. There too, he did not have enough scope to live through this conflict. But in a singular expression when his moist eyes meet those of Rakhee right before he is supposed to shoot her, SRK shows the meal he could have made of that character and conflict, had he been in a show like Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein.
It's in flashes like those that we realise SRK could've been so much more. But fret not, because for now, we have Tahir Raj Bhasin.
Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein is streaming on Netflix India.
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