Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein Review: A meaty thriller emblematic of Netflix India

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Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein – streaming now on Netflix – has a promising dark comedy at its core. In it, the doe-eyed daughter of a powerful politician, Purva Awasthi (Anchal Singh, from Undekhi), has had a crush on Vikrant “Vicky” Singh Chauhan (Tahir Raj Bhasin, from Chhichhore), the veritable little bastard of the accountant school, since she was a child. (Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein’s premise would be creepy on several levels if you flipped the whole thing gendered. But that’s another debate.) And because Vikrant is very fond of Purva, none of the dozens of henchmen and enforcers who work for Purva’s dad , who practically rules the city, dares to touch him. Vikrant’s life is pretty well protected, although neither he nor the Netflix series get much benefit from it.

That’s largely because Vikrant is – simply put – a coward. Even his dreams are intentionally small, almost like he’s afraid the universe might retaliate or something if he asked for more. And that’s exactly what Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein is really interested in: Vikrant’s transformation. Creator, director, writer, co-producer and showrunner Sidharth Sengupta (Apharan) – whether the new Indian Netflix series is going right or wrong, there’s a man to praise or blame – wants a man’s slow but inevitable descent represent being caught between sticking to its principles and withdrawing from Purva’s orbit.

Except that Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein takes too long to get there — and the journey isn’t remotely interesting or fascinating enough. At times, it feels like Sengupta took a movie-length narrative and stretched it to fit into an eight-part first season (ending on a cliffhanger). It’s also so heavily plot-driven that after a point it becomes tiresome. If there is a straight path from point A to point B, Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein takes three detours along the way. Everything is made unnecessarily complicated. It wants to force its characters into awkward situations, but finds inelegant ways to get there. It’s like Sengupta writes himself in a corner and then just gives up instead of finding a better way.

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When it’s unpredictable — Sengupta is trying to sell us deaths that aren’t a priori not believable — it withholds information from the audience to further its thrill and mystery. And on more than one occasion, the new Indian Netflix series is lying to viewers to set up its twists and turns. And about halfway through, Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein essentially jumps over the shark – I can’t go into specifics because of spoilers, other than to say it’s completely illogical, but Sengupta just keeps going like he’s pretending to be we too stupid to understand it. Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein is also frustrating on the whole as the first season is intentionally left incomplete. Netflix doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to greenlighting future seasons of its Indian original series; It is possible that we never see his threads unwound.

Set in a nondescript fictional small town in Uttar Pradesh called Onkara, Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein begins with a quote from Othello but has no connection to the Shakespearean play. The Netflix series revolves around the aforementioned Vikrant (Bhasin), whose voiceover in the first episode takes us through his early life to the present day. The menace that is Purva ruined his childhood, Vikrant claims, because she was always after him. His fate changed after she left town in the middle of her school days – Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein never tells us why – before Vikrant met Shikha (Shweta Tripathi Sharma, in a thankless role) during his college days and fell in love with her instantly . The love story of Vikrant and Shikha is told entirely in song; Shikha is less of a character and more of a prop from Vikrant.

But all that is lost in Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein after Purva (Singh) returns to Onkara. After Vikrant’s accountant father Suryakant Singh Chauhan (Brijendra Kala, from The Aam Aadmi Family) urges him to work for his master, the notorious politician Akheraj Awasthi (Saurabh Shukla, from Jolly LLB), Vikrant is once again thrown back into Purva’s orbit . And this time it’s like being sucked into a black hole. Purva quickly wins over the Chauhans by getting their father to pay Vikrant much more than his Bhilai engineering job (all for managing Zumba dance classes she runs, while humiliating him in the process) and Vikrant’s sister (Hetal Gada , from Dhanak) a work too. Purva tries to catch them all. And when Vikrant tries to free herself from her thumb, she makes the family’s life hell in response.

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Anchal Singh in Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein
Photo credit: Priyanka Kala/Netflix

Still, Vikrant wants nothing to do with Purva – after all, he and Shikha want each other – and he does little to hide it. Then why does Purva insist that Vikrant is his? Because he’s the only one who didn’t want her in school. The woman who is the instigator flips the traditional guy-stalking-girl mold (which has been deeply romanticized by Bollywood), although it’s still the man who does more damage to Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein. Maybe that’s a way for Sengupta to comment on how men only think about themselves, how men are the worst. It’s Vikrant’s actions – or rather, inaction (plus flip-flip decisions) – that get Shikha and her family in more trouble than Vikrant and his family have to deal with. It is Shikha who must humble himself because of Vikrant.

Some of it could have had Gone Girl-esque vibes if Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein knew what it was doing. But unfortunately that’s expecting too much. Tonally, the new Indian Netflix series is omnipresent. There’s goofy comedy that’s poured in at random in places. Sometimes it gives in to the mood of the occasion and forgets the mood of the character. It flips the dynamics between characters to fit the narrative, completely ignoring what it has established in several episodes. What’s even more annoying is that most of his characters are stationary and don’t grow. Of course, Vikrant’s bow is the deepest – but you only feel that because Sengupta deals such a bad hand to everyone else. Except for Vikrant, the others only exist to advance the plot.

And it doesn’t help that Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein is operating in a very heightened reality. It’s bizarre comedy on some levels, but steeped in intense drama. A character will come up with a crazy plan before forcing other characters to follow him, which in turn takes the Netflix series to a more absurd level. At times, it feels like Sengupta is pushing himself to develop an increasingly elaborate and convoluted plot – because he doesn’t know what else to do.

Additionally, Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein will do whatever it takes to make an impact rather than looking for what makes sense given the situation or the characters involved. There are so many WTF moments in the new Indian Netflix series that the audience doesn’t have time to discuss or react to them. (It’s a trait Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein shares with Netflix’s previous Indian thriller series, the Raveena Tandon-led Aranyak, last December.) You might be tempted to say that Netflix India is kicking off 2022 on a terrible note begins – but outside of that, a few relatively better-performing stocks, that’s now the norm rather than the exception. Just look at what it gave us last year.

Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein was released on Netflix on Friday, January 14 at 1:30 p.m. IST.

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