Label Series Review: An honest attempt that never reaches its potential
At one point in Label, we are shown a crime almost taking place. It feels like a very real crime until the protagonist steps into the picture and we get to know that a team of journalists are merely shooting a creative depiction of a crime for their show. The protagonist, a lawyer, who is tired of being stereotyped based on where he comes from, is disappointed that the boys who acted in the skit are further propagating the stereotype. The protagonist sighs at the state of people from his place, who are branded as thugs and henchmen.
Cast: Jai, Tanya Hope, Master Mahendran, Ilavarasu, Sriman and others
Director: Arunraja Kamaraj
Streamer: Disney+ Hotstar
Cinema has often played around with concepts like identity politics, to tell personal and rooted stories. Sometimes, we might fail to understand the politics behind the stories that talk about identities, whether they are talking about the experiences attached to said identity or their oppression. At other times, it is also used to talk highly of identities, as a symbol of pride. Disney+ Hotstar’s Label fights with all its might to talk about how when branded with an identity, one might suffer the consequences for a lifetime.
At a time when stories talk highly of one’s identity, Label takes an interesting route to show us how it can also be a stamp of a curse that goes on to destroy someone’s peace. The series is set in North Chennai’s Vaali Nagar where some work as henchmen under different organised crime networks and are called ‘labels’. Meanwhile, Prabha (Jai), a lawyer who hails from the same area, is working hard to remove the stereotypes and improve his neighbourhood. Having a personal experience of being falsely accused in his childhood, Prabha is on a mission to free people from put-up cases, while on a long-term plan to destroy the crime networks wreaking havoc in his neighbourhood.
Label’s intentions seem to be interesting. Before it begins to delve into the nuances of the system called ‘label’ (which is told in an animated sequence), we are introduced to Prabha and the noble purposes he is fighting for. It takes him a blink of an eye to dismantle a false accusation, credit to his years of experience handling such cases. Prabha also has higher ambitions, as he hopes to become a judge one day. On the other hand, there is Veera (Master Mahendran), a young boy who aims to be a label and climb his way up the ladder of ruthlessness and violence. In between this is Mahitha (Tanya Hope), a journalist who is trying to uncover a case.
There is a generous amount of Ambedkar and Buddha imagery splashed in the corners of the frames, as well as some honest depictions of how preconceived notions can haunt people without their knowledge. There are also some thought-provoking commentaries. Like when a mother of a label chases away the girl who is stubborn to marry her son and says she will set him on the right path. “It is not the girl’s duty to change a man after marriage. Is it marriage or jail?” asks the mother, delightful words of wisdom coming from a potential mother-in-law.
But the positives get buried under the slow screenplay that barely keeps you invested in its storyline. As much as the series stresses the importance of the syndicated and organised crime chain called Label, it barely scratches the surface in telling us how it impacts people. It also never elaborates on how young men find it as a lucrative opportunity for fame. The series tries to push the brutality down the throat so much that it forgets to address the psyche of the men who dream of joining it without finding any other way to gain respectable recognition in this unequalled society.
Label also seems to forget to treat itself as a series and instead resorts to the template of a commercial film. With its regular montage songs, and a woman character who seems to operate on the periphery. The long format of storytelling feels untapped since the series tries to jump from one crime to another, instead of talking louder about the subject matter it took up. The bloodshed is aplenty, and so are the cuss words, thanks to the OTT and absence of censorship that comes with it, but despite all this Label, even as it tries to be honest, misses the potential to make a mark on what it is saying.