Not many today are strangers to the current affairs of Karachi. The city by the sea has often times in recent memory been subjected to bouts of criminal activity and political violence, making it an unfortunate headlining topic for nightly talk shows and news reels. This crime scene also presents an opportunity for some compelling story telling, and the recently released web-series Karachi Division attempts to take a stab at showcasing what lies beneath the headlines.
The six part miniseries starts interestingly enough. Tariq Mirza (Shamoon Abbasi) is an underworld don, a somewhat principled one at that, who has been rubbed the wrong way when an underling called Saleem Gutka (Imran Patel) parts ways and resorts to extortion activities. The resulting rising lawlessness from the dueling between the two gangs does not go unnoticed by the law enforcement authorities and an enterprising journalist. As the show progresses, links between Mirza and India’s RAW are revealed, as are shady loyalties between dirty cops and underworld operatives. Turns out everything is up for deal making and the action unfolds fast enough on screen as the characters reveal their ulterior motives and plot to double cross each other.
Sounds like something that would make a compelling thriller? Probably, except that the treatment of the storyline here is almost comic-book simplistic, with the good guys out there to uphold the morally righteous values, and the bad guys being well, just the bad guys. There is precious little background storytelling to justify the characters’ actions — the motives of and the rage within the criminal elements remains unexplored, as do the reasons behind what drives the morally uprighteous cops to take an uncompromising stance in bringing the criminal elements to the book. Also, there are way too many expletives, to the point where they seemed quite forced as if to compensate for otherwise mediocre writing.
Having said that, the plot is actually well conceived, although with the double crossing gang leaders angle it is hardly a unique one. It fits well within contemporary day to day happenings of what has come to be modern day Karachi. The performances are largely decent too (more on that later). The RAW angle was the USP here, however, it is only briefly touched upon as the focus remains primarily on Mirza, Gutka and the cops. One would have liked to see more of the ‘why’ in relation to the espionage agency — why is RAW targeting Karachi, why have the gangland operatives chosen to work with it, why has law enforcement been unable to keep all of this in check?
Production wise, the show is quite slick with a gritty, earthy feel to the sepia frames that it has been shot with. There is plenty of skillful steadycam use that has been employed in the action scenes as well at times to tastefully explore Karachi’s urban tapestry. The background score keeps its thumb on the tempo of the narrative and complements the visuals quite adeptly, although there are times it tends to drown out the dialogues.
Coming to the performances, Shamoon Abbasi and Imran Patel do well as the headlining gang leaders. Abbasi brings a certain amount of suaveness to his character, whereas Patel is menacing enough. Mudassir Waqar, playing SP Jamshed, looks earnest enough. It is to the show’s credit that it brings a talented ensemble of relatively new actors to the fore.
In short, Karachi Division’s first season has its fair share of strengths and flaws. The plot is gripping and its setting novel, hopefully the writing in the second season will have greater depth and will fully uncover the story’s potential.