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Ek Thi Begum review: Excellent performances elevate this long revenge saga

Release Date: 08 Apr 2020

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Suyog Zore

Said to be based on a true incident, the web-series takes you back to 1980s Bombay (now Mumbai), when crime and gang wars were at their peak.

Ek Thi Begum is a 14-episode-long crime drama on MX Player that sheds light on the criminal underbelly of 1980s Mumbai. The series, created by Sachin Darekar, tells the story of a woman who dared to go against the big players of the underworld to seek revenge.

There was a time when the Mumbai underworld was a favourite topic with some filmmakers. Films like Parinda (1989), Satya (1998) and Vaastav (1999) explored the workings of the underworld and achieved cult status in the minds of viewers over the years. Those films brilliantly showed the complex nexus involving politicians, businessmen and the underworld.

Slowly the focus shifted from Mumbai's underworld to crime dramas in India's hinterland and we got iconic films like Omkara (2006) and Gangs Of Wasseypur (2012). Recently, OTT platforms have jumped on the bandwagon with shows like Apaharan and Mirzapur.

Ek Thi Begum is an addition to this list. The show starts promisingly by introducing all the players of the game. But here the game is about life and death. The gangs led by Nana Mhatre (Rajendra Shisatkar) and Zaheer Bhatkar (Ankit Mohan) are the most prominent in Bombay. Mhatre works for Maqsood (Ajay Bahl) who operates his business sitting in a pristine bungalow in Dubai. Maqsood is unmistakably modelled on India's most wanted gangster Dawood Ibrahim. Though Zaheer is also a gangster, he believes in some morals and is opposed to the use of drugs. Hence, he repeatedly foils Maqsood's plan to supply drugs in Bombay.

Zaheer is married to Ashraf (Anuja Sathe) and they are finally having a child after seven years. For his child's secure future, Zaheer decides to leave his criminal business behind and lead a simple life, but as we have seen in innumerable crime dramas, there is no exit door in this business. His past catches up with him and he pays with his life. This is where the revenge aspect begins, as Ashraf vows to kill each and every person involved in her husband's murder.

But Ek Thi Begum is not just a revenge drama. It also explores how the corrupt police and politicians gave rise to the organized crime syndicates in India's financial capital. From the iconic old Ambassador cars to old-fashioned payphones to other minor details, the makers have painstakingly recreated the bygone era. Sachin Darekar and his crew deserve full marks for their attempt to take us back in time. Except for two or three occasions, the production design by Santosh Phutane is on point.

The other technical aspect that deserves special mention here is the excellent cinematography by Sachin Gadankush. His use of light and shadow in some scenes will leave you awestruck. The series also has five or six long and complex single takes. Overall, Ek Thi Begum deserves a perfect score on the technical aspects.

All the artistes have brought their A-game to this series. Anuja Sathe, who plays the lead, is really good, but the show-stealer is Abhijeet Chavan. He plays corrupt police officer Tawde. He is so despicable that you don't want to look at him, but at the same time it is impossible to take your eyes off him whenever he is on screen.

Another praiseworthy performance comes from Shisatkar. The actor has been playing honest, dedicated police officers in TV serials like Crime Patrol, but here he shows his evil side. And he completely enthrals you with his performance. Others like Santosh Juvekar, Chinmay Mandlekar and Resham have all done an excellent job. This is as good as a show can get in terms of performances.

Darekar deserves praise for his realistic dialogues. It's an adult series and obviously there is a lot of adult content in the show, especially in terms of violence and cuss words. Since Ek Thi Begum is about criminals and the underworld, all characters, including the police officers, cuss at every possible occasion. But not once does it feel forced. Technically, this is a bilingual web-series because almost 30% of the dialogues are in Hindi. But after a point you stop noticing when the dialogues switch between Marathi and Hindi.

Despite all these positives, the average screenplay drags the web-series down. It plays only in the familiar territory of crime dramas which we have become accustomed to. The audience can always guess what is going to happen next due to familiarity with the subject and the predictable screenplay. We have seen this many times before in crime capers. What makes matters worse is the writer's overindulgence in some unnecessary scenes.

Throughout the show, you get the nagging feeling that you have seen this already. And to be frank, we have. The corrupt police, the nexus between politicians and gangsters, we have seen all this in so many films over the years. The only difference here is the length.

But despite having ample time on hand as an audience (because of the countrywide lockdown now), we don't get to learn anything new about the underworld or the 1980s era. It's the old-wine-in-a-new-bottle kind of scenario. Also, at 14 episodes, the series feels too long. Perhaps if the makers had compressed the content into nine or 10 episodes, Ek Thi Begum would have been an engaging watch. Even now, it is a decent attempt.

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