Indian television’s biggest fiction show starring Amitabh Bachchan, Kay Kay Menon, Zakir Hussain, Aahana Kumra, Mona Wasu, Sarika, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Ayesha Raza has aired eight out of the 20 episodes from its very first season on Sony Entertainment Television over the last two weeks (Monday through Thursday, at 10.30 p.m).
The 140-crore budget show that boasts of Anurag Kashyap as the showrunner, also had Shoojit Sircar on the sets to supervise the efforts of director Ribhu Dasgupta, given the scale and stakes involved.
And after a slow and rather weak start in its first week, the show surely has picked up some momentum during its second week. While it gets a lot of things right and is certainly a lot better than most shows on Indian TV, Yudh is still frustratingly average fare with bursts of good moments.
The performances – led by Amitabh Bachchan himself – are refreshingly realistic and the ensemble shows restraint. Full points to the series creators for infusing Indian TV with this long lost sensibility. Even the camera work is quite mature (none of that gimmickry Indian TV has been cursed with), the production values better than most shows on TV and while the show is fairly fast-paced strictly in the context of Indian programming, it is still half as slow as American shows. While shows like Breaking Bad and Lost earned their licence to stall in only the mid seasons, Yudh takes the audience for granted quite early on, making many give up after the first episode or two.
There are a few things that don’t work though.
One, the show takes itself way too seriously which is laughable because it’s quite a pulpy script… full of conspiracies, twists and turns, most of which seem forced, convenient and almost soap operatic. The show is devoid of logic with its protagonist making the most ridiculous decisions right from Episode 1 and yet, the director shoots it like it’s a character study. Downright pretentious in treatment.
Two, we have a protagonist who does the most ridiculous things.
If Yudh (Bachchan, of course) takes an anonymous tip-off as the word of God in the pilot and evacuates a government hospital all by himself, he is silly enough to call for a press conference based on another anonymous CD sent to him as evidence without any fact-checking or verifying the sender’s motive. Despite his growing list of enemies and increasing stakes and danger, it never occurs to Yudh to check on (or wonder about) the safety of his trusted efficient aide when she doesn’t take calls, especially during a crisis she had to fire-fight. How do we root for this dim-witted dying protagonist who seems full of self-pity, who always makes bad decisions on an impulse, one with no redeeming quality except that he’s supposed to be a good man. Yet, we are not sure.
Every time his solution to a problem involves making more enemies. For a man who shouldn’t stress, he is asking for new problems. Even the negotiator in a kidnap gets annoyed with his behaviour and blasts a bomb in his mine to teach him a lesson. Well played, Yudh. The show ought to have been called How to make enemies and piss off people.
Then, Yudh is so full of Amitabh Bachchan as its centerpiece that when the narrative cuts to the subplots and stories of other characters ever so briefly, they seem irrelevant and seem to be put in as token sub-plots (We almost forget Tigmanshu Dhulia is in there) There’s just not enough about the rest for us to care. And because he can’t do many stunts, most of the action in this thriller is largely indoor and fresh conflicts arrive through phone calls and texts. Show, don’t tell, remember? Even the few outdoor stunts shown look tacky, given the budget the show boasts of.
Finally, the frequency of the show itself. Four days a week with an hour a day is high maintenance given that very little happens everyday. If we were to tightly cut two episodes into one, this might have been a good ten-episode long first season. But this is just odd pacing that requires too much commitment and patience.
Luckily, the show is online on Youtube. You can just skip to the parts that make sense. Given its current format and structure, Yudh is best caught online.