Zindabaad review: Vikram Bhatt’s web series feels like a poorly acted, inferior imitation of 24
Vikram Bhatt's Zindabaad is not powerful enough to be binge-watched
There is a quote in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club where the Narrator describes a woman he feels is stalking him as “the little scratch on the roof of your mouth that would heal if only you could stop tonguing it, but you can’t." This could also be the best way to describe Vikram Bhatt’s new web series, Zindabaad. The latest offering from VB on the Web and Jio Cinema, Zindabaad is not powerful enough to be binge-watched but at the same time, there is something campy enough about it that makes you want to indulge in it, much of it is at your own peril, of course.
Described as a political-action thriller, Zindabaad has a washed-out former RA&W operative Arjun Vashisth (Vikram Bhatt), who divides his time between heading security for a minister and drowning rest of his waking moments in booze. But this changes in a moment when a Pak-ISI sponsored bomb blast kills the little children in a play school operating on the ground floor of the apartment where he lives. Arjun calls the mastermind of the blasts Hafeez Salim (Shahnawaz Pradhan) on a live television debate in Pakistan and tells him that he will kill him for his crimes. Soon, a series of events occur where his former RA&W colleagues, ISI operatives and a whole lot of people across the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent all become involved.
There seems to be a lot happening in Zindabaad and the screenplay tries its level best to pad the narrative with espionage and counterinsurgency lexicon that have become part of popular culture as well as the stuff that is happening around the common people such as reality television and TV news debates to inform the audiences that your life is important in the greater scheme of things such as geopolitics. On the face of it, Zindabaad is about our world today where intelligence agencies are busy trying to get a step ahead of the enemy by means of information and data while trying to avoid direct confrontation but it’s also about spies at different stages of their careers - Arjun the old hand, Arjun’s one time protege Sara Sayed (Sanaya Irani), the ISI assassin Benazir Khan (Sana Khan), Sara’s husband and a RA&W agent Irfan Syed (Aniruddh Dave). So far, so good. Unfortunately, most of Zindabaad is as predictable as watching a washing machine going about its business and it lets go of an opportunity to at least be a decent watch. As a sidenote, if you are one of those who defines ‘decent’ as being watchable then Zindabaad has more than its fair share of moments but if 'decent' also means a longer shelf life then there is none here.
When it comes to television shows, the definition of shelf life is slightly different from both films and how it was once defined for television in the past. By a longer shelf life, this writer means something lingering on for enough time to think about it. It is being said that we are in the second Golden Era of Television and as a result, many of the shows are being hailed as great writing achievements. But even then no matter how much you loved LOST or 24, the chances of you watching their re-runs beyond a point is out of the question. It is here that the longevity factor in television changes - you may watch Seinfeld endlessly on a loop but you think more about a Mad Men or Breaking Bad.
When it comes to Zindabaad, there are a handful of things that mar the viewing experience and these include lazy production design, bad acting and a near-obsessive desire to reprise some of the best shows and films of the genre. Much of the acting in Zindabaad is abysmal especially, Aniruddh Dave, whose Irfan invariably sinks the show as his character is the most predictable and he, sadly, doesn’t make any efforts to hide that. At many places, the supporting cast members mouth their dialogues just to give the others their cue and don’t even wait for a split second before giving their reactions. The primary trouble with Zindabaad could be the casting of Vikram Bhatt as the central character for he lacks the punch to play someone like Arjun Vashisth. Bhatt, who also wrote the series, does look the part, which could be attributed to his white hair, and nearly gets you at times as well but everything goes to dust nine out of ten times the moment he opens his mouth.
Much of this could be overlooked if the production design was not so tacky; there is an instance in the Zindabaad where the insignia of a car is covered with what looks like aluminium foil (Yes!) to pass it as some Middle Eastern country and not the Mumbai parking lot where it was probably shot. Much of Zindabaad would give you a sense of déjà vu on nearly all fronts. Zindabaad is too reminiscent of 24 or Phantom and merrily rekindles Shankar’s Tamil film Indian (1996), which was released as Hindustani (1996) in Hindi, at many critical points including the climax where live television is used as a ploy, which makes you wonder why not revisit them instead. The big message of the series — how terrorism has cost human lives dearly on both sides i.e., ‘yahan’ and ‘wahan’ or how some people on both sides of the Radcliffe Line are hell bent on not giving peace a chance — also seems trite. One of the better episodes, "Bargaining People," had streaks of what Zindabaad ought to have focused on as a secondary story-arc. In this episode, we at least learn a lot about the main characters from what they say or do on the screen and not lengthy expository dialogue.
Would there be a second season of Zindabaad? If indeed there is one in the pipeline, here’s hoping it has something more worthy than just a few parts that shine a little.
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