After so many years of the Singham slo-mo stride, parlayed over so many masala movies, I’d forgotten that Ajay Devgn could walk any other way. In ‘Rudra’, his first web outing as the dour, brooding Special Units cop Rudraveer Singh, he does remember not to walk arms akimbo. Instead of khakhi, he is in civvies, black jacket, black trousers. And because this a web series, he is allowed to smoke, which he can’t in our sanskaari movies. But his single-minded focus on finding the bad guys and fixing ‘em is still the same: whether it is Singham or Rudra, when he hits ’em, they stay hit.
This is not just what the baddies say. All his colleagues — his boss, his twenty-year-old associate, his seniors, and a rookie assigned to be his partner — are prone to fix a half-exasperated, half-admiring expression on their faces as they tell us how Rudra is the greatest, even if he likes to fling computers through glass screens which shatter obligingly, or upturn tables when he flies into a black rage. Which happens quite often in the six-part season one of ‘Rudra’, directed by and produced by Applause Entertainment, streaming on Disney Hotstar.
If you’ve noticed, I haven’t yet begun detailing the other characters, and the reason for that is simple: Rudra is the hero, and he needs to be kept front and centre at all times. This is something that original didn’t have to bother about: Idris Elba, who plays the detective in ‘Luther’, leads from the front, but doesn’t have to be talked up as he walks. Luther’s estranged wife is shown in her workspace, as a professional making life choices; Rudra’s similarly estranged wife (Esha Deol) wears power suits, but feels domesticated, swinging between her ex, and her current lover (Satyadeep Mishra) who is as deliberately different from Rudra as can be, in his printed shirts, and open face.
But then this is bound to happen if you have a top flight Bollywood hero descending onto the web space: whether it is a three-hour flick, or a multi-episode web series, the hero always needs to be top, even if he is sullied and tarnished a little. And there really can’t be a better choice to play that dark but inherently noble character than Devgn, because he owned that template years before. If anyone could do an intense, growly brooder after Amitabh Bachchan, it was Ajay Devgn.
Meanwhile Rudra cuts a swathe through his workplace, a police station which looks like a set, and through the mean streets of Mumbai, swarming with depraved serial killers, paedophiles, rapists, deranged officers, while keeping at bay a child prodigy-cum-astonishingly clever woman whose twisted brain is up on offer to be picked.
Of the terrible types he tracks, a couple stand out: both are serial killers, one who believes that ‘my blood is my truth’, and the other who has a thing for women’s purses. In both these episodes, time is expanded on the festishistic aspects of the killings, and upon the men who do these things. Then there’s a guy (Luke Kenny) who has a penchant for slicing off body parts and shiny, expensive stones. Ashwini Kalsekar, in her crisp uniform, is up for her strong superior (she gets called ‘Boss’ by her subordinates) part, as is Atul Kulkarni, a cop with weak streaks. Ashish Vidyarthi, as distinguished officer, shows up to shake his finger at Rudra, whenever he steps out of line, which is, like I’ve already said, all the time. Tarun Gahlot does a good job of the new-boy-on-the-job.
The flame-haired sexy-bad girl pitted against Rudra who manages to get under his skin, is played by Raashi Khanna, who calls herself ‘thodi random, thodi kooky’. Whatever. Good vamp material there, even though she does narrow her eyes a lot. As do we, clocking in the far-fetched and contrived parts, with full recognition that this feels like an English language series even if it is in Hindi. So, while there are such lines as, ‘Rudra pyaar samjhta hai, rishtey nahin’ (clap, clap), there is also a proliferation of Hindi-in-English dialogue. ‘Phir se kaho’ is, of course, ‘say that again’. And, my favourite, ‘Kya yeh point hai jahaan sirf tum jaante ho kya ho raha hai’? Err, okay.
But no matter. Fans of hard-core crime-and-grime serials safely can watch this serviceable home-grown version; they might even have to close their eyes in some gory bits. ‘Rudra’ is well-produced, and well-paced, only letting us feel the stretch in a few stretches. And Ajay Devgn rules. His rough, tough Rudra shows us a flash or two of vulnerability, but he makes a solid meal of his disturbed defender of the law. And he gets to mouth a cracker, the best line of the series. ‘Poora system jumlon par chal raha hai’, (the whole system is working on ‘jumlas’) he tells a concerned colleague. That’s right.
Rudra The Edge of Darkness cast: Ajay Devgn, Raashi Khanna, Esha Deol Takhtani, Ashwini Kalsekar, Luke Kenny
Rudra The Edge of Darkness director: Rajesh Mapuskar