Anil Kapoor's 24 is a much needed break from the dreadfully boring days of Saas-Bahu conflicts shown on the small screen as it brings a world of classy production values and mature performances unknown to Indian television.
The first two episodes, which were aired this weekend, were instant showstoppers. Like the show's agile energetic anti-terror hero, there is not an ounce of flab in the hour-long playing time of 24. 24 simply grabs your attention and refuses to let it go.
First things first. The production values seen on the show are of a calibre unknown to Indian television. Metropolitan night-life was never meant to be like this. Mumbai is caught in a feverish flourish of night-time bustle turning it into a city of pulsating activity as the serial kick-started with some of the crispest fiction writing. Rensil D'Silva and Bhavani Iyer's writing is topnotch.
While retaining the looming suspense and the breakneck narrative speed of the original American series, the writers have created space for the very peculiar cultural compulsions of urban India where the householder must balance the demands of his posh job with family obligations.
Milap Jhaveri's dialogues capture the wry cynicism and the split-second immediacy of anti-terrorists working against the clock. But Jhaveri doesn't slavishly copy the original dialogues from the American series. None of the "Kya tum sach mein ho?" (literal translation of "Are you for real?") incongruities. One wonders as to whether this is the same guy who scripted the smut spree in Grand Masti?
Anil too suprises. His range of performing abilities swing irreconcilably from the nudge-nudge-wink-wink innuendos of Race 2 on the 70mm screen to the mature panther-like agility of a family man coping with a national crisis in 24 on the portable screen. It's a dream role, and one into which Anil sinks his teeth with restrained relish.
Nowhere does he over-do the bravura, even in that intrinsically cocky sequence where he injects glucose into his insufferable senior pretending it would kill the boor in seconds.
Such writing would conventionally be considered wasted on television, a medium that has so far been treated as a lair for leftover talent from cinema. In one brilliant stroke Anil shows what can be achieved on that much-abused space in your living room.
24 (Twenty Four) is so full of anxious characters chasing the opposite of dreams that we watch them not only to gauge their commitment to doing what they are assigned to, but to see where their unrelenting passion for out-witting fate takes them. The show has Anil Kapoor, Tisca Chopra, Shabana Azmi, Anupam Kher, Mandira Bedi and many more playing lead roles.
Game-changer? 24 certainly is that. And a lot more. What is likeable is the Indianizations that have been teased into the tightly-wound plot simmering with the summer of desi discontent.
Neil Bhoopalam, so far seen in cheesy roles on the big screen in No One Killed Jessica and David, makes a very convincing prime ministerial candidate in the series.
The content is so riveting that you wonder if all the brilliant writers are migrating to television leaving cinema to the 'besharams' of the written word. 24 is definitely going to take a lot of persuasive powers from filmmakers to drag viewers out of their homes on Friday and Saturday nights!