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Rudra Review: Ajay Devgn’s Performance Helps Paper Over The Rough Edges

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Rudra Review: Ajay Devgn’s Performance Helps Paper Over The Rough Edges
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A still from the trailer. (Image courtesy: youtube)

Cast: Ajay Devgn, Esha Deol, Raashi Khanna, Atul Kulkarni, Ashwini Kalsekar, Tarun Gahlot, Ashish Vidyarthi, Rajiv Kachroo, Milind Gunaji, Luke Kenny, Vikram Singh Chauhan, K. C. Shankar, Satyadeep Misra, Saad Chaudhary and Rajesh Jais

Director: Rajesh Mapuskar

Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)

Ajay Devgn suppresses his big-screen super-cop instincts to completely inhabit the troubled titular sleuth in Rudra: The Edge of Darkness, a slick but slavish remake of Luther, the British thriller series that, from 2011 to 2019, yielded 20 twisty episodes across five instalments.

Rudra: The Edge of Darkness brings together a bunch of tales of dark desires and desperate deeds that put a famed police investigator to the test. As the man goes about cracking the befuddling cases, he has to reckon with raging emotional demons that threaten to drive him off the rails.

Devgn’s performance is among a handful of things that help the show paper over its rough edges. In his web debut, the Bollywood A-lister isn’t a blustering, trigger-happy man in uniform who thrives on instilling the fear of God in law-lawbreakers. He plays Rudraveer Singh, a flawed but firm plainclothes detective who has solved more cases for his unit and got into more disciplinary flaps than any other officer.

On one level, Rudra: The Edge of Darkness is a somewhat unimaginative replication of the BBC Studios original, which benefitted no end from a full-bodied, loose-limbed star turn by Idris Elba, whose expressive face and mercurial demeanour created a lively canvas that conveyed a wide range of emotions and behavioural notes.

The Applause Entertainment production, too, depends wholly on the impact that the lead actor makes in the guise of a workaholic, sullen cop who is perpetually on a short fuse and struggling to come to terms with the decision of his wife Shaila (Esha Deol Takhtani) to leave him for another man (Satyadeep Misra).

Keeping his anger and agony in check is a big challenge as Rudra is drawn into tackling personal and professional issues without crossing the line. His failed marriage makes him emotionally volatile all right, but it does not rob him of his innate deductive acumen.

Rudra, as intriguing a policeman you will ever see in a Hindi web series, is filled with angst, prone to making impulsive decisions and in the habit of playing fast and loose with rules. No matter how tough things get for him, he remains focused on the job of bringing dangerous criminals to book while not always playing strictly by the book.

At stake are love, friendship and duty, but Rudra can take none of it at face value. As loyalties and realities, contexts and compulsions shift incessantly and both criminals and colleagues keep him on his toes, he must dodge a flurry of temptations and provocations.

Rudra is part of a crack investigation unit headed by joint commissioner of police Deepali Handa (Ashwini Kalsekar), who stands by him when other superiors are determined to let him cool his heels away from the action after he is suspended for using excessive force in pursuit of a paedophile.

On his return to work – his boss describes it as “an investment” when another senior police officer thinks of it as “a risk” – Rudra runs into Aliyah Choksi (Raashii Khanna), a young woman suspected of murdering her parents and dog. She is engaged in research on black holes and prides herself on being a genius. An odd relationship develops between Rudra and the cheeky girl – she is both an adversary and an ally.

In Luther, Ruth Wilson interpreted the character as an angsty yet cocky woman playing mind games with the male protagonist. Here, Raashii Khanna is a coquettish femme fatale who grins and grimaces her way through palpably vexed situations, undermining the innate efficacy of the role.

In the six episodes that constitute Rudra: The Edge of Darkness, the cop’s work entails taking on criminal minds and wading through serious muck. An army commando on a murder spree, an artist with a grisly fetish, a cabbie-turned-serial killer and a ruthless mobster who wants to grab a few pieces of diamonds in the possession of a fine art dealer. Rudra is assisted by Prabal Thakur (Tarun Gahlot), a rookie who reveres him.

Rudra: The Edge of Darkness, with the exception of very minor tweaks necessitated by the change in backdrop, faithfully sticks to the Luther storyline. While that could be deemed a source of strength in some respects, one cannot help feeling that the writers of the show (Ishan Trivedi, Abbas Dalal and Hussain Dalal) could have done with a greater degree of localization.

The transference of the setting from London to Mumbai is a touch forced because the backdrop and real people of the cosmopolitan city do not become an integral part of the narrative. The Marathi ambience is conspicuous by its absence in the culture-agnostic Rudra: The Edge of Darkness. In fact, none of the major characters in the show either speaks even a smattering of the local language or answer to a name that could link them to the local ethos in any manner.

Those who haven’t seen Luther at all or have seen it but do not remember much of it will find enough in Rudra: The Edge of Darknessto keep them hooked. This despite the fact that every episode begins by revealing the identity of the wrongdoer and the precise nature of the crime. It then follows Rudra and Prabal as they gather evidence against the culprit.

Atul Kulkarni plays the role of a police officer who has worked alongside Rudra for two decades and is his closest friend in the unit. The screenplay gives the fine actor little scope to display his wares until the fourth episode. In the last two parts of the show, Kulkarni springs to life and raises the game several notches. The series suddenly turns far more gripping.

The psychopaths that Rudra encounters are played by K.C. Shankar, Hemant Kher and Luke Kenny, but neither comes anywhere near upstaging the star of the show. But once Kulkarni comes into his own, he is more than a match for the lead actor. To Devgn’s credit, he sticks to his guns and does not seek to get ahead of, or above, the script.

Ashwini Kalsekar and Tarun Gahlot are perfect as Rudra’s boss and assistant respectively and do not enough not to let memories of Saskia Reeves and Warren Brown eclipse their performances, but Esha Deol Takhtani does not quite capture the verve that Indira Varma brought to the role in Luther.

Rudra: The Edge of Darknessisn’t a big-budget movie riding on mere star power. It is the script that holds the key. If only the early passages weren’t as tepid as they are, this would have been a worthy Indian version of a very British thriller. As things stand, the series passes muster only because of a few of the performances and its sustained technical finesse.

If Rudra: The Edge of Darkness does not leave you asking for more, it isn’t a complete turnoff either.

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