Tandav is a Slow-Paced Political Thriller That Squanders its Strong Acting Performances
If you saw Tandav’s trailer, you might have already seen the warning signs. Sure, the show boasts a stellar cast and a director (Ali Abbas Zafar) who is known for directing Salman Khan blockbusters, but its story is overblown and predictable, despite addressing real world controversies. While the series has its flaws, it doesn’t deserve the abysmally low ratings it has been receiving on IMDB, mostly by viewers and anti-fans angered by its controversies surrounding religion.
Samar Pratap Singh (Saif Ali Khan) makes a powerplay to secure his seat as the country’s next PM by taking his father off the playing board. His play, however, gets intercepted by Anuradha Kishore (Dimple Kapadia), who blackmails him into declaring his support for her as PM. As Samar plots his revenge, he also tries to make use of rising student politician Shiva (Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub) from VNU, orchestrating events to create rifts between Shiva and his friends, who are all in a socialist party.
The best thing about Tandav is the solid acting on display from all players across the board.
Saif Ali Khan balances Samar’s charm and deviousness well, and Dimple Kapadia is suitably authoritative (and deceptively scheming) as Anuradha. Ayyub is compelling as the righteous Shiva, and Sunil Grover brings nuance to his hyper-competent fixer, Gurpal, who unwinds from his dirty work at home with his cat and listens to religious sermons. Kumud Mishra and Tigmanshu Dhulia also turn in robust performances as career politicians.
Despite the strong acting, the character work falls short. For most characters, we only get a surface level understanding of their backstory and motivations, while for others, we don’t get even that. The pacing is also very slow. After nine episodes, the storyline has progressed very marginally. Most of these developments could have been contained within 4–5 episodes. One reviewer remarked that this makes the first season of Tandav feel like a trailer for its second season, and that’s not an entirely unfounded notion. The soundtrack is also annoying, with almost every scene playing a variation of the signature score. It gets very tiring early on, and it only becomes more grating in later episodes.
There are, perhaps, too many characters in this first season for the show to handle.
It wouldn’t have been impossible to tackle for a different show that moved at a more brisk pace, but in this case, it feels like the characters are encroaching on each other’s narrative space, barely leaving any room to explore their personalities.
The story also feels like an Indianized take on the first season of House of Cards (US), with the main characters of both series plotting to take revenge for being deprived of a position of power and trying to use a promising politician as their pawn. Samar isn’t quite as devious as Frank Underwood, but he is every bit as driven, and even has his own Claire in the form of his wife, Ayesha (Sara Jane Dias).
If there is a second season, let’s hope that Tandav gets its act together and focuses more on characters and charts a more engaging narrative that’s less heavy-handed. It would be a shame to waste a cast of this caliber.