Breathe: Into The Shadows web series Review: A witless, ludicrous series
The silliness of Abhishek Bachchan’s debut show soon morphs into complete absurdity
It’s been two years since R Madhavan and Amit Sadh squared off in Breathe Season 1. To its credit, the Amazon Prime Video show had a reckless, desperate energy that kept it afloat despite the preposterous plotting. With that unmistakably gone, the new season ends up as a mindless hash of thriller clichés and sermons in pop psychology. The show’s definitely scaled up — with Abhishek Bachchan leading the charge in his digital debut. But the sedate, straight-shooting actor proves ill-fitted for the material, nodding off in the car and glowering silently from time to time.
Cast: Abhishek Bachchan, Amit Sadh, Nithya Menen
Director: Mayank Sharma
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
Like last season, Breathe: Into The Shadows is about parents doing unimaginably bizarre things to save their kid. Avinash (Abhishek) and Abha (Nithya Menen) are a couple in Delhi. At a birthday party, their six-year-old daughter, Siya, is kidnapped. For nine months, there’s dead silence: no ransom letter, no first contact. Avinash is a psychiatrist and Abha a chef — food for thought? — and despite the ongoing police investigation, are finally learning to move on with their lives. But then there’s a message: the kidnapper has kept Siya safe and is willing to negotiate. His humble demand? That Avinash and Abha execute a series of killings on his behalf. It’s a ridiculous proposition, but the Sabharwals are somehow game. Soon, they are tailing targets and fixing pin-ups in the basement.
In another, not-so-distant corner, inspector Kabir Sawant (Amit) has hit rock bottom. We meet him in jail, bashing fellow inmates in the pouring rain. He’s been on the wagon, though his liver is shot. Reeling from a past blunder, Kabir takes a transfer to Delhi and is put on the serial murders case. The cat-and-mouse chase that ensues is all that seems on offer for a while. That would have been fine, given writer-director Mayank Sharma’s ability to build suspense into the silliest of scenes. There are intense set-pieces at roadside dhabas. The kidnapper wears a checkered hoodie and a mask, like a disgruntled rapper about to drop his hottest album yet. The silliness doesn’t hold, though, or rather morphs into complete absurdity, as a midpoint reveal flings open the gates of hell.
Breathe is very much a show about brooding, self-absorbed men. Perhaps to counter this, the writers introduce a string of female characters: a gay author, a ‘feminist’ animator, a friendly escort, an independent dhaba-owner, a driven cop. There are some fine performances here — Resham Shrivardhan is striking as a bright medical student — but these characters are mostly limited to narrative busywork. The track between Kabir and Meghna (Plabita Borthakur), a woman he’d injured, is particularly facile in its short-sightedness. For all the tokenism, the women in this world are victims or mothers or hapless redemption arcs.
Abhishek Bachchan is out of depth in this harebrained thriller. His smooth-talking doc favours dull greys and blues, and is closer to a sleuth than shrink. It’s a laughably complex role, and despite the actor’s best efforts, there are flashes of self-parody (Avinash namechecks both Paa and Raavan in the show). Nithya Menen, making her second Hindi appearance after Mission Mangal, retains some emotional investment in her character. While out serial-killing with her husband, Abha stays sharp while also blundering frequently, as any normal person would. She’s confronted by Kabir in the penultimate episode, and both Nithya and Amit manage to lift the scene above the grubby dialogue.
There is a curious DIY quality to the show. Characters hatch an escape plan using household products. Several episodes in, the biggest piece of clue is a restaurant menu. A Mumbai cop remarks on the ‘largeness’ of a Delhi home. At one point, Kabir, fashioning an unimpressed gait, is likened to a wheelchair. This could have been a witty reprisal of the ticking-clock dynamics established in the first show. But the writing is placidly thin, with illogical twists and convenient turnarounds at each step. Doubly infuriating is the bleeding dry of childhood trauma as a plot device — a screenwriting crutch Indian thriller writers can’t do without.
“Pain is inevitable,” we’re told at one point. “But misery is optional.” For viewers of Breathe, only the first is true.