Jaideep Ahlawat, who suggests roiling energy and intelligence even when he is completely motionless, has to be India’s finest actor on current form, observes Sreehari Nair.
There are two interesting stretches in Bloody Brothers, and both have the texture of sketch comedies.
The first stretch has Asrani walking out of his villa in Ooty, and being knocked down by a car.
At this point, it isn’t the fate of the character that arouses your curiosity, but his make-up.
Asrani plays old man Samuel Alvarez, and you can see that his hair has been made up like Agatha Christie, and his moustache like Hercule Poirot.
In a mystery story, for the murdered to be styled partly like the world’s most famous author of mysteries and partly like her favourite detective was, I thought, a touch worthy of the stage.
The car that knocks Alvarez down is driven by Daljeet (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub), and with him is Jagjeet (Jaideep Ahlawat), and together they are the bloody brothers who make up the title of the show. Not too deep… I know.
The brothers discover that the old man’s pulse has stopped, and there’s a fair bit of comedy in their debating about what would be the right thing to do.
They finally carry the body back to the old man’s villa and, in the tradition of skits and burlesques, set the body neatly on a rocking chair, wrap a shawl around it, and wait for the bells of natural death to toll.
As the show progressed, I found myself wishing that it had more of these ‘associations’ and bits of non-verbal humoUr. Because the writing, as a rule, is so flat, that it doesn’t draw you in.
The characters have no inner lives, and the lines they utter are mere expositions therefore.
Over and over again, you can imagine one character whispering to another, ‘I know I am telling you something that you already know. But the audience doesn’t know it, so bear with me.’
If the clunky dialogues weren’t enough, Director Shaad Ali ‘cuts’ from one piece of dialogue to the next, so that nothing feels alive, and the actors, instead of doing something innovative with the lines, are left worrying about maintaining continuity.
There are no real perceptions that come through by the end of the shots, and what we get at best are plot twists (each episode ends with one, and the season itself ends on a looming cliffhanger).
The two lead actors, who frequently make their exchanges play better than they read on the page, are what save the show to a large extent.
Jaideep Ahlawat looks straight in the eye and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayub looks away and, in concert, they make this a non-verbal routine that expands the scope of their characters.
Every now and then, they go one up on the expository dialogues by introducing unexpected punctuations, by slowing things down, by snorting or guffawing in the middle of a back-and-forth.
Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, my guess is, grew up as a Shah Rukh Khan fan, and then grew less masala-struck. And this, if you think about it, is also the Shah Rukh Khan journey in reverse.
Zeeshan Ayyub is so compelling, in this role and elsewhere, because his approach as an actor, while unorthodox, jives perfectly with instincts that are mainstream.
As a character, Daljeet, who goes to parties dressed up like an old-world poet, is so simple-minded that he would make our Twitter commentators seem smart.
The ruse in Bloody Brothers is that playing against his simple-minded brother, Jagjeet the lawyer is supposed to come off as sharp and cunning.
With the script being of little help, the makers of the show must consider it a blessing that Jagjeet is played by Jaideep Ahlawat, who suggests roiling energy and intelligence even when he is completely motionless.
Now, when an actor achieves that ideal, you can be sure he’s in the form of his life, and Ahlawat has to be India’s finest actor on current form.
Here, to use an old cinephile’s expression, you can catch him smiling with his back to the camera.
I especially enjoyed Ahlawat’s sequences with Maya Alagh (hamming it up as a self-pitying hag), where they go at each other’s throats like two street kids trying to protect their respective turf.
Otherwise, in this universe of one thing tidily leading to another, and everybody double-crossing everybody else, all we get are instances of the writers throwing in easy coincidences, and Shaad Ali directing them with ‘underlined shots’ — also called make-a-point shots.
The small talk remain just that: They don’t have the bite of bungled speech, or overlapping dialogues.
This pattern continues until Satish Kaushik arrives on the scene with quivering jowls, and mutes everyone out.
Kaushik plays a self-glorifying monster, Handasaab, who speaks as if to himself, and speaks exclusively in fables and blank verse, and whose minions are equally indirect and obscure.
And herein, you can trace the real problem with the show.
For a crime story to work, there must be a sense of life having been disrupted by an act of crime, and the everyday scenes in Bloody Brothers, the behavioural scenes as they are called, are too uninvolving for us to care about their imminent disruptions.
It’s as though Shaad Ali’s imagination doesn’t respect the commonplace, as though his camera needs something out of the ordinary to feel gingered up.
Also, it doesn’t help that a significant section is devoted to a bumbling detective played by Jitendra Joshi.
Joshi is supposed to be a compulsive alcoholic, but so pre-calculates the sloppiness of his character that the performance gets turned into a number. In truth, it should have spoken to you with the directness of a confession.
Again, you can make the same case about the whole show.
Perhaps it’s an ode to Ooty’s weather, but Bloody Brothers goes hazy at precisely those moments when it has to be transparent and open.
The lovemaking scenes, for instance, lack the heat that often comes with them feeling drawn from life, and sort of improvised. The lovemaking, here, feels set to a soundtrack.
That said, I liked the way Shruti Seth’s character looked at Mugdha Godse, with just the right mix of longing and fear, and I accepted those sequences with the gratitude of one being handed out accidental mercies.
But if you are looking for critical consolations, let me tell you, Bloody Brothers is watchable, especially in the scenes of its two lead actors trying to work out something from the puny material given to them.
They don’t quite suggest a history of having grown up together. But Ayyub and Ahlawat do manage to turn poorly written scenes into amusing little set-pieces, such as the one of Daljeet the bard composing a fitting couplet for a high-pressure situation, and Jagjeet the realist responding to it with a long intake of breath that feels like a poem of another kind.
Bloody Brothers is essentially about these two characters. And yet, what an irony that I spent almost the entire running time pointing at my screen and saying to myself: ‘Man, those two… they surely deserve a separate show.’
Bloody Brothers streams on ZEE5.