Flesh Web Series Review: Solid thriller with an overdose of gratuitous violence
Rock-solid performances hold together Flesh, which has just enough bite to keep us invested, but is mired in gratuitous violence
There is no point beating around the bush and skilfully skirting around the main themes while reviewing a series like Flesh. So, this review comes with a trigger warning for sexual violence, drugs, child abuse and police excess.
Developed by Pooja Ladha Surti from a story written by Siddharth Anand and Sagar Pandya, Flesh is a series that attempts to lay bare the ugly world of human trafficking. We are shown two trafficking rings — one that kidnaps and sells young adults to flesh trade, and one that does the same to kids. Both rings have a “consignment” ready for delivery. The kidnapping of an NRI girl, Zoya (Mahima Makwana), brings in ACP Radha Nautiyal (Swara Bhasker) into the mix, and what follows is the cat-and-mouse chase between cops and the traffickers. While the premise is hardly new, mounting this as a web series on a digital platform provides the makers with their biggest trump card — lack of censorship. However, this turns out to be a double-edged sword.
Cast: Swara Bhasker, Akshay Oberoi, Mahima Makwana, Vidya Malavade
Director: Danish Aslam
Streaming on: Eros NOW
It is unsettling enough to see 10-15 kids locked up and waiting for the “boss” to transport them to their next hell. Do we also need graphic visuals of them being molested, raped and beaten up? Do we really need to know how exactly these kids are moulded into a life that will subject them to such monstrosities with alarming regularity? Similarly, seeing teenage girls being chained in a makeshift camp before transportation is gut-wrenching enough without having to see the gratuitous violence they are subject to. Flesh, with its liberal usage of creative freedom, will no doubt act as a major talking point during the debate over censorship of OTT content. While the series does do justice to the theme of trafficking, the incessant cuss words, disturbing sexual innuendos, one too many gory violent acts, and a narrative that is non-linear to a fault, prove to be too much of a distraction.
With so much happening on screen, it would be a shame if some of the more poignant moments go unnoticed. There are beautiful scenes like a shared rhyme between two kids in the trafficking camp, girls trapped in a travelling truck talking about how they are here because they trusted their loved ones, or even a slight smile between a just-widowed woman and the sex worker who tells her that her lorry driver husband was always faithful. It is these notes that we tend to remember more than the hard-hitting reality.
Of course, there are twists in the tale, which have just enough bite to keep us invested, although these are more of the “oh” variety than “A-ha” moments. But the series is truly held together by some rock-solid performances from actors who slip into the skin of their roles with unnerving ease — especially Akshay as the drug-addled antagonist Taj. He not only exudes more than the required malice, but also displays an underlying sense of vulnerability. He is the perfect foil to Swara’s on-point performance as the no-nonsense cop who is aware of the system and its loopholes, which of course, leads to a bout of police excess that goes unchecked.
Beneath all the sexual violence, the gore, and sadistic voyeurism, there is a story on how trafficking is normalised in our society. Even in this series, the investigation is swift only because the NRI girl Zoya comes from an influential family. What if the family of Jaya, another woman in that truck, had approached the police? Would they have moved heaven and hell to reach from Mumbai to Kolkata in a couple of days to nab the traffickers? Now, that’s where the real meat of this issue lies.