If you are someone who is always on the watch out for thriller series, you must have come across the critically acclaimed Kaala Paani (2023) streaming now on Netflix. Directed by Sameer Saxena and Amit Golani, the 7-episode long series is a survival drama and focuses on a water-borne deadly disease that has recently broken out in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Kaala Paani holds your attention till the very last scene, addresses a range of contemporary issues and the relatability that the viewers experience with the series, especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic is what makes it one of the most interesting thriller series of all time.
Kaala Paani is way ahead of time
Kaala Paani is set in 2027 where Chief Medical Officer Dr Soudamini Singh (Mona Singh) warns the island of a health disaster. On the same island, Swaraj Mahotsav which is expected to have thousands of visitors is going to be held and the police officials led by Lieutenant Governor Zibran Qadri (Ashutosh Gowariker) do not want it to get affected. When confronted with SDPO Ketan Kamat (Amey Wagh) who is working for the private company ATOMS, who tries to prove Soudamini’s claims as wrong, she has no option but to give her consent to allow the celebrations to take place.
ATOMS has laid down pipelines into the city which is supplying water from Jenkins River, this water is deadly and is causing Leptospiral Hemorrhagic Fever (LHF) amongst the people. At the heart of the series is Santosh Salva’s (Vikas Kumar) family who have visited the islands as tourists, guided by the tour guide Chiranjeevi or Chiru (Sukant Goyal). The only survivors of the disease in the past have been the Orakas, the tribal community of the islands. They managed to survive the disease in 1989 by having access to a special plant Echinacea, which is the only cure for the disease.
As the story unfolds, one gets to know that Chiru is an Orakan descendant, his mother adopted him when the Orakan lady (Chiru’s birth mother) was raped by a city poacher who risked her life and handed young Chiru to the couple. Chiru initially hates the Orakan community since he feels they do not deserve to be on the islands and he also envies the fact that Orakans are immune to the disease. He captures one Orakan named Enmae (Desire Junior Binde) and tortures him, only to realise later that he is his original family.
When Enmae is targeted by the hospital to give his life to save thousands of others, Chiru instead sacrifices himself as he also is an Orakan and immune to the disease and also because he wants to compensate for what he did to Enmae. Ritu (Radhika Mehrotra), who is an intern finds this and is credited with the theory of saving people. On the other hand is young nurse Jyotsna (Arushi Sharma) who is taking care of Santosh`s kids on the other side and aids the medical team in finding the cure for the disease.
Later it was also revealed that the Orakans have spread the seeds of Echinacea on the island, but Ketan learns that these lands were cleared to give way for the helipad of ATOMS’ CEO Brandon Shaw to land safely and produce aesthetic pictures. This is the moment when Ketan realises what a fool he has been to support ATOMS all this while. Santosh, who has lost his wife and son due to the disease, enduring all the difficulties is united with his little daughter Kaddu who herself is infected by the disease, he ends up choking Jyotsna to death when she asks him to take precautions and leave Kaddu behind.
Towards the end, we see Santosh on the ship with Kaddu and Orakans surrounding the police officials, something they always wanted to do since their lands were snatched away from them. This is where the series comes to an end and leaves a lot of space for the story to unfold in Season 2.
Kaala Paani is a reality check, at multiple and complex levels. It addresses an issue, that perhaps humanity might be facing in the years to come, i.e. water crisis. With every character searching for a single drop of water to drink, the series stands way ahead of its times. It also leads us to our pasts and freshens the horrendous memories of the COVID-19 pandemic, where masks and five-foot distances have become normal once again.
The plot brings together important institutions of medicine, civilians and cops together, united in a common cause with certain interests working purely out of selfishness, again presenting a grim reality to the audience.
The complex human nature and its representation
Ketan, who serves as a double-layered character becomes significant. He is someone working for the people but at the same time prioritises his self-interest and personal gains by being a helping hand to ATOMS. His character then serves as a foil for the private company and its officials who are driven by a capitalistic approach and can reach to any length to serve their ambitions.
This presents a larger comment on how a privileged class of people always know to find their way out in distressed times when thousands might be dying in the same region. If anything, it is a satire and takes into account capitalism and its negative effects, especially when any disease encounters humanity as a whole, where every individual is helpless.
Kaala Paani also presents the realities of what humans become when it is about the survival of themselves and their loved ones. In the last episode, when Santosh kills Jyotsna by choking her, he becomes someone he is not. Driven by the desire to save the only surviving member of his family, he is ready to go to any height to make her survive, so much so that he ends up killing the person who saved his family all this while out of his rage and anger. Do we forgive him for this outburst of his rage? The answer does not come easy to us.
Fortunately, the series does not underrepresent the tribal community of Oraka. In contrast to the popular representations of the tribals as savage and illiterate, the series does justice to them. They are represented as the saviours of humanity, having the only treatment for the deadly disease and also willingly ready to sacrifice for the sake of the common good.
The command by their leader to break the pipeline so that the harmful water does not reach the localities is where we see an important justification for the above statement. They know they are immune to the disease and recognise this privilege. Towards the end, one can argue that they come upfront with the buried resentment within them and this is the point where the audience cannot wait for Season 2 to be out.
The series operates at moral and emotional levels
The hints of caste discrimination are also present in the series, where Ritu has a father who had to face casteist statements all his life. So when the pivotal moment arrives when she comes out with the theory of finally having treatment for LHF, she is taken back to her teenage years when she knows what her father went through as a Dalit. She remembers all of it and this episode then conveys a lot in little.
The trolley problem finds a big role in the plotline where the moral question of killing one person to save many comes up, and again, the medical team as much as the audience, finds itself in a difficult position. By taking this problem into account, the series operates at various psychological and emotional levels as well.
The series is highly recommended if one wants to dive deep into the traumas of any health emergency and what impacts it leaves different institutions with. Lastly, the makers killing Saoudimini Singh in the very first episode is something one struggles to find easy justifications for! Anyway, the series is still a must-watch and should be on your list.