Dahaad review: A repetitive serial-killer story with significant politics

Karishma Jangid
Updated On
New Update
Dahaad review: A repetitive serial-killer story with significant politics

In 'Dahaad,' Mandawa, Rajasthan's sub-inspector Anjali Bhaati chases a serial killer who murders 27 women belonging to backward classes and castes. 

If only I had a penny for every time I saw a social media post about serial killer documentaries and TV series being "comfort watches!" Serial killer-related cinema can be harrowing to watch, but it gives you the rush that few genres offer. However, Prime Video's new TV series 'Dahaad,' which also revolves around a serial killer, doesn't provide a similar thrill. Inspired by serial killer Cyanide Mohan's story, Dahaad revolves around sub-inspector Anjali Bhaati (Sonakshi Sinha) who, in the tiny village of Mandawa in Rajasthan, comes across the curious case of a serial killer who murders 27 women belonging to backward classes and castes. The serial killer, Anand Swarnakar (Vijay Varma), is a local Hindi professor who teaches rural children on weekends. Married and a father, Anand looks like he can't even yell at someone, let alone kill 27 women. However, Bhaati's gut knows that the innocent-looking Anand is a "raakshas ka avatar (devil's incarnation)." How will she find the killer and prove his misdeeds? That's what Dahaad is about.

Also Read: Why is ‘The Kerala Story’ in the news?

Dahaad is not limited to its serial killer though. It explores the marginalization of women in rural areas of Rajasthan (and perhaps all of India), focusing on Dalit and socially backward women. The 27 murdered women are preyed upon because unfortunately, Dalit women are the most vulnerable. In India, if we examine the hierarchy of gender with respect to caste, dominant-caste men are the highest on the ladder, and Dalit men and upper-caste women come next. They are both oppressed by upper-caste men, but both hold the privilege to oppress Dalit women. Dalit women are on the lowest rung of the ladder. They are oppressed by everyone standing above them. This is by no means an all-encompassing observation, but this explains why Bhaati is often harassed by eve-teasers and is barred from entering upper-caste houses (even during investigations), even though she is a police officer. Bhaati's own mother constantly pesters her to get married because even if self-reliant and accomplished, a woman has no worth in society's eyes if she is not married and serving a man. Dahaad also portrays how women often look at love marriages as an escape from their conservative families.

Amidst all this oppression, SHO Devi Lal Singh's (Gulshan Devaiah) character is a major relief as well as inspiration. Singh is a good boss who continually supports Bhaati and a good father who understands fine parenting. In one scene, when Singh catches his school-going son watching porn, he is initially angry. But later, instead of yelling, he explains to his son that porn is not a credible source of sex education because it often involves ignoring consent and abusing women. Another exemplary to-be father is SI Kailash Parghi (Sohum Shah), who struggles with a dilemma about bringing a kid into a world that is full of debauchery. His character is very well-written with an interesting and authentic arc. 

These two characters majorly benefit from the actors who are playing them. Perhaps the best actor in this series is Devaiah. He lives his character every moment, even when he is simply standing in the frame. Shah, too, acts powerfully, evoking whichever emotion he wants in you. Prashansa Sharma (as Sindura) has a limited screen presence but makes the best of it. The leading lady Sinha, unfortunately, does not do a convincing job even though she has such a consequential role, not only in Dahaad but also across all series being created in India currently. Of course, the star of the show is Varma. With his slender physique, shy demeanor, and smile that is both kind and evil, it's as if he was born to do dark roles. This is why, even though the show lags a lot, I was awaiting the climax. However, the script let him down.

The script is the weakest element of the series. Episode one promises a lot, but the series begins meandering soon. It picks up pace around episode seven, but it's too late by then. For a show about a serial killer, Dahaad serves a pretty bland climax that under utilizes Varma's acting prowess. The background score is another letdown as it tries to imitate Rajasthani folk music but stops short of it. The Rajasthani accent of most actors, especially Sinha, sounds Haryanvi for some reason. The show does a better job of portraying Rajasthani culture than most series, but it isn't authentic enough. As a Rajasthani myself, I'm yet to find a genuine portrayal of Rajasthani mannerisms in Hindi cinema.

Dahaad wins at representing the tribulations of Dalit Rajasthani women such as honor killings, sexism, lack of freedom, absence of autonomy, and others. It wins at depicting, with empathy, the travesties of Indian women that don't find any space in news headlines. Dahaad's writers have finally characterized a Dalit female protagonist who is rescuing other women and herself. Dahaad, thus, rejects the hegemony of dominant-caste men as well as women. However, as a cinematic piece, it has little entertainment value.

Dahaad is currently streaming on Prime Video.

sonakshi sinha rajasthan Gulshan Devaiah Vijay Varma prime video Sohum Shah Dahaad serial killer cyanide mohan dahaad review serial killer tv series