Mumbai, 01 Oct 2021 22:11 IST
The show sees a vengeful Ashraf (Anuja Sathe) taking on a new identity in her quest to snuff out her husband's killer.
The second season of director-writer duo Sachin Darekar and Vishal Modhave's revenge saga Ek Thi Begum is a decently engaging follow-up that somehow repeats the mistakes of its predecessor.
At the end of the first season, Ashraf Bhatkar (Anuja Sathe) who has seduced her way up the ladder of Mumbai's underworld to avenge her husband's death, is left to die by Maqsood's (Ajay Gehi) men when her identity gets exposed.
The new season begins with Ashraf's devoted current husband, the police officer Vikram Gokhale (Chinmay Mandlekar), nursing her back to health in a secret location. Only Vikram, a few police officers and Ashraf's father-in-law know that she is alive. But as she gets better, Ashraf escapes with important documents and assumes the new identity of Leela Paswan in her quest to reach Maqsood.
As Leela, Ashraf teams up with another faction of the underworld, which includes drug dealer Ashwin Surve (Hitesh Bhojraj). Surve, who is a rising star in the world of crime, has the backing of Maharashtra's chief minister Yashwantrao Patil (Sandeep Mehta) and now wants to tighten his grip on Mumbai by taking over drug distribution.
Leela slowly takes over Surve's gang which upsets his partner Wardha (Purnanada Wandekar). Ashraf's old adversaries such as Bhai Chavan (Vijay Nikam) and Nana (Rajendra Shisatkar) take a backseat for most of the show. Apart from Surve, another new player Shaqeel Ansari (Shaad Ali) has entered the game.
The follow-up season has all the ingredients of the first, the good and the bad. The performances of all the cast members are top-notch. Sathe once again succeeds in showing the moral dilemma of her character as she goes further down the path of crime and risks losing her humanity. As a protagonist, Ashraf possessed a moral compass. Although she killed a few criminals, she never engaged in outright evil. But in this season, she not only crosses the line that even her husband was not ready to cross but also seems to enjoy the power that comes with it. Which makes it really hard for us to root for her anymore. She ultimately becomes that what she had set out to destroy: an immoral drug peddler.
Bhojraj delivers a terrific performance as a hotheaded mobster whose insatiable hunger for power knows no bounds. Mandlekar once again shines in the role of a police officer who is caught between his feelings and his duty.
The first season had some interesting character arcs but this one's graphs are a little flatter or simply non-existent. Some characters just appear to move the story forward and simply disappear. One such character is Lokesh Gupte's ACP Qureshi. His character had so much potential to turn into something interesting but he comes across as a mere idea rather than the actual person. But Gupte elevates this one-dimensional character with his dedicated performance. Sauraseni Maitra, who plays Ashwin Surve's wife, is a surprise package here. The actress beautifully shows the gradual progression of her character from an obedient housewife to a cunning and clever gang leader.
Darekar, who has created and written the series, has paid little attention to the setting and logic, which sometimes makes you question whether the show is actually based on a real story after all. Things happen without any repercussions. In one scene, Leela goes to Himachal Pradesh alone to meet the supplier of the drug. He has a monopoly over his narcotic because apparently, he is the only supplier in India and provides drugs to all gangs. Ashraf kills him in front of his men takes over his business without any effort. Furthermore, the show also never cares to explain how she manages to maintain her control over the gang in Himachal Pradesh from Mumbai and why other gangs just don't use their muscle power to take over the village. And how does Maqsood, who is the most feared gangster in Asia and has control over all the politicians, not even possess even a photo of a woman whom he especially sent men to kill?
This season contains many crime drama elements such as the clash of egos, backstabbing, double-crossing, political meddling in police affairs and the nexus between the underworld and politics, But somehow it all feels too orchestrated, like a well-thought-out and calibrated formula. Unlike the first season, the show never makes you feel like you are actually in the Bombay of the 1990s. The setting feels too synthetic and the director has also dialled down some of his signature long takes. Also, the director has added more commercial ingredients to make the show more appealing to common audiences, probably because of the popularity of the first season.
Though this season was shot in Hindi, this reviewer preferred to watch the Marathi version because it seemed more authentic and captured the characters' emotions accurately. It would have looked quite odd to see a character who is usually seen blowing of steam in the Agri dialect suddenly speak chaste Hindi.
Despite all its issues, the show manages to keep you hooked because of the terrific performances and some purely entertaining, commercial elements that cloak obvious plotholes. You might enjoy it if you liked the first season, but it helps to keep your expectations in check.
Ek Thi Begum 2 is being streamed on MX Player.
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