Kaala Paani review: Thrilling, Unsettling and Evocative
What: Kaala Paani - “The cli-fi survival drama set in 2027 is a harsh reminder of the horrors of the pandemic that gripped us.”
Kaala Paani synopsis
Cli-Fi is an emerging genre that’s gaining a strong foothold in the OTT space. With elements of thrills, intrigue, horror, and prophecy, it has been garnering the viewer’s attention by underlining nature as the supreme force in the universe – don’t meddle with nature, else it will decimate you.
Nature wreaks havoc in the gripping survival thriller that’s set in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in 2027 where a deadly disease outbreak in the waters signals a catastrophic health crisis. The CMO of a premier hospital, Saudamini Singh (Mona Singh) is baffled with the symptoms that the eleven patients are showing and suspects that as something of pandemic proportion only to be dismissed by his colleague, Sashi Mahajan (Chinmay Madlekar) and local police authorities headed by a wicked cop with selfish intentions Ketan (Amey Wagh). Meanwhile, the island is prepping up for a tourist carnival, Swaraj Mahotsav and a Singaporean firm ATOM (headed by Wani (Rajesh Khattar) has invested in it heavily to see healthy revenues.
While Port Blair witnesses a huge turnaround of tourists for the upcoming carnival, Admiral Qadri (Ashutosh Gowarikar, seen in front of the camera after a hiatus) doesn’t want to leave any stone unturned for beefing up the evacuation procedure and medical infrastructure but fails to alert the public. The curious Saudamini embarks on a risky and secretive mission to Jenkin islands to unravel the mystery of the disease that once showed during 1989.
Kaali Paani is a moving and throbbing portrait of human survival against nature’s odds created by showrunner Sameer Saxena who also wears the director’s hat along with Amit Golani. The virus apparently doesn’t have a cure and is like a superbug which ambushes your immune system, causing death in a few hours. It is a deeply disturbing and unsettling story that combines multiple subplots which converge into the main narrative, blessed with a riveting blend of drama and human emotions.
Meticulously written by a team of five – Golani, Biswapati Sarkar, Sandeep Saket, Nimisha Mishra and Rahul Hemnayani, the plot which spans across 7 flabby episodes benefits from top-notch storytelling and compelling character arcs. Beneath the exquisitely shot water bodies and islands (DoP : Dhananjay Navagraha, Barny Crocker and Ewan Mulligan), some inhabited by the ‘Oraka’ tribe, there is a sea of conflicting emotions propounded by the urgency infused by Saxena and Golani through the concurrently moving storylines.
A tourist couple, an underconfident Santosh and wife Gargi (played by Vikas Kumar and Sarika Singh respectively) are stranded at another island while their kids are in Port Blair when lockdown is imposed. A nurse (Arushi Sharma, Love Aaj Kaal 2.0) while battling ghosts of the past is trying to start her second innings of life while the disease catapults her to a chance savior of lives. A local guide, Cheeru (Sukant Goel) with shades of grey tries to reform his misdoings by helping the couple to unite with the kids.
Kaala Paani establishes a clear stand through couple of anecdotes – like the Frog-Scorpion story (which was narrated by Tabu in Kuttey) told by Parvathy Amma(Veenah Naair) to her son Cheeru, and the Switch scenario of saving lives given by Gowariker. In real life, there are either wrong decisions or lesser wrong decisions, he says with a wisdom-through-experience smirk on his face. Gowariker’s performance is one of the brightest spots in the thriller, that blissfully humanizes a leader at the hour of crisis which redeems the absence of the terrific Mona Singh after the first episode.
Performances from the entire ensemble are competent and awe-inspiring. While Vikas and Sarika lend gravitas to the stranded parents, it is the undercurrent of parental responsibility gripped with the calamity and loss of human life that the makers examine with empathy. That really touched me and left me teary-eyed. Ayesha Sharma’s catharsis in the upheaval secures a niche position in the emotional landscape of Kaala Paani. Sukant Goel renders another compelling performance alternating between the frog and scorpion characters in his own story.
Kaala Paani final words
I go with 4 stars out of 5 for Sameer Saxena’s Kaala Paani. Produced by Posham Pa Pictures, the 7-part web series is streaming on Netflix from 18th Oct 2023.