Asur web series review: Arshad Warsi leads an enthusiastic thriller
Corny and excessive, Asur, the Voot Select original has its moments
Masks, respiratory ailments, deaths. Characters going stir-crazy in isolated rooms. It’s like all your coronavirus fears have been bundled in an 8-episode show about the circularity of good and evil. The paranoia is baseless but telling. Earlier this month, a fanged effigy of the lethal virus was burned in Mumbai. In Asur — a new Voot Select original streaming since March 3 — panic spreads as a self-appointed ‘demon’ goes around states killing people. Fear and irrationality have a blood bond.
Cast: Arshad Warsi, Barun Sobti, Anupriya Goenka, Vishesh Bansal
Director: Oni Sen
Streaming on: Voot
The show starts with Nikhil (Barun Sobti) quitting a teaching position at the FBI and returning to India. A former forensics expert, he isn’t hunting for minds, just bodies. Dead ones, yes — and those that ‘tell a story’. Lucky for him, there’s a serial killer at large, a shadowy monster piling corpses and texting their coordinates to the cops.
Nikhil settles in but is suspicious of Dhananjay (Arshad Warsi), his past instructor from institute days. Sporting a suit-and-stubble combo, Dhananjay is older, sharper, and a more functional wreck: he’s unfazed about his impending divorce while Nikhil navigates a difficult marriage. One has quit smoking (for a stretch at least), while the other can’t.
The buddy cop setup had me hooked. Arshad’s blandness — untapped since Seher (2005) — creates fascinating friction with Barun’s showy brood. But then the show, riding the wave of mythology-inspired Indian thrillers, goes all out with its twisty excess. Between frequent bong hits of religion, philosophy, and forensic jargon, a chase ensues. The makers try for Sacred Games by way of Dexter, Se7en, and Oldboy. They land at Crime Patrol for Ashwin Sanghi fans.
Not all is lost, though. The screenplay (by Gaurav Shukla, Niren Bhatt, and Vijay Chhawal) has its moments. The opening cliffhanger is ambitious but fits snugly into the plot. The dialogues are deliciously stiff. Some gems: “There are two kinds of serial killers in the world — organised and disorganised.” “You want cigarettes, or do you want proof?” “The answer was as simple as…. an ulcer.”
The genre enthusiasm is enjoyable: the killer, while filming a battered head, shoots the blood in trickling slow-mo. The present-day chase is intercut with a pulpy origin story. Child actor Vishesh Bansal aces these bits; his cold glare in one scene is reminiscent of the kid in Incendies (2010). Perhaps these heavy influences wear the show down. Every time narrative action halts in favour of character psychology, things become a drag.
The Sacred Games hangover is unsubtle. Anupriya Goenka, who played a sulky wife in that show, plays a sulky wife here. She even gets an identical dream sequence near the end. Each episode brings a truckload of mythological references. They range from obscure to faintly amusing and are often delivered without any thematic context. The politics, likewise, is childish: a leftist, a journalist, and a cleric are pitted in a high-risk game of Bigg Boss. (Guess who comes out on top?)
Late into Asur, something meaningful is said. “Conflict, not cooperation, is the nature of man,” a character asserts. It has taken a virulent pandemic for the modern world to be united anew. To set aside differences and facilitate relief. To value science over superstition, survival over selfishness and greed. This darkness, however dense, has its lessons to teach.