Review of visual narratives
When a woman falls from grace, society walls her in. Quite a lot of factors contribute to a woman’s “reputation”—how she dresses, how she talks to the opposite sex, how she interacts with people. Koli 2.0, broadly speaking, captures this aspect of a woman’s life. However, the lens through which she is looked at is distinctly different. When society wants to have nothing to do with a woman except the one thing, when survival of the fittest is the only way out, we find a renegade of a woman. A female protagonist, that too, a “ruined woman”, in a Bangladeshi web series. I was instantly intrigued, and immediately fished it out of Bioscope, a live streaming website full of treasures such as this.
Koli 2.0, in many ways, is a retelling. Anarkali, because of her affair with Selim the Mughal prince, was walled in alive by the prince’s father, the Emperor, the one who controls all that goes on and doesn’t go on. The web series reimagines this story of eternal love in a decaying Bangladeshi city, laden with crime, drugs, politics and the vicious cycle of hatred and vengeance. Abrar Athar’s direction brings the intangible web of any Bangladeshi city’s infernal underworld alive, coupled with near-flawless cinematography by Tahsin Rahman. The issue of drugs, and how it has become a social epidemic, is portrayed in the series without taking on a didactic tone. One might be tempted to compare the webseries with a certain Indian production. Having watched both, however, I feel that they strongly differ in their treatment of crime and criminals. I can reassure viewers that none of the games in Koli 2.0 are sacred.
As a standalone episode, Koli 2.0 accomplishes quite a lot. The puritanical viewer might scowl at the frequent use of Dhakaiya vernacular and of course, the use of profanities and sexual innuendos. One must realize that the ruthlessness of the underworld can be best portrayed through language, as indeed, language shapes our world, or any world for that matter. One notices the restraint and level-headedness of the dialogue, and one can imagine the labor and the amount of time invested in composing them. The title, however, creates a placebo effect in the viewer. As the series is called Koli 2.0, the viewer might be tempted to think of this standalone project as a second episode of something bigger. The fact that Koli speaks of her past, and there are no glimpses of her past for the audience to look at, solidifies this assumption. However, I would like to assure you that there is no “Koli 1.0” to be found on the internet. The story is a retelling, and that too of the epic romance of Anarkali and Selim. Hence, if there is a “Koli 1.0” somewhere, it might as well be the classic movie, Mughal-e-Azam!
One of the strongest suits of Koli 2.0 is its cast, and, hence, the acting department in the storytelling. Starring a heavyweight such as Pijush Bandyopadhyay in the role of a tyrannical crime lord, ‘Aka’ (Akbar), also an election contestant, ensured a strong, true-to-Bangladeshi local underworld boss for the story. Nusrat Imrose Tisha, forever a fan favorite, is our Koli. Anarkali was a royal courtesan while Koli from the local city streets is a heroin addict, both “ruined maids”, both viewed as objects in the society. However, Koli’s character stands strong in resilient anger, she hits with her words and fights to survive the big bad world of cybercrime and drugs with her intelligence. During the course of the story, she does speak of her past poignantly. As a viewer, however, I sincerely hoped that the cameras would show glimpses of her fate, rather than her telling. The Selim of the story has been portrayed by Irfan Sajjad, whom I found to be quite a good fit. The lover of such a strong protagonist has to be somewhat clueless to balance things out, yet Selim is no idiot. He knows his father’s capabilities, his reach and the extent to which Aka can create complications. Another character that shone equally brightly is his right-hand man, played by Baizid Haque Joarder. He is the voice of reason and problem-solver in the life of these star-crossed lovers. My favorite, however, is the narrative voice and character of Sumon Anowar, who plays the “Chacha”, the main henchman of the formidable Aka. His brooding voice, along with the music score by Jon, created anticipation, dread and signaled the coming of something ominous.
Koli 2.0’s another achievement is the creation of the character, Koli. Her character is a genuine one, the director has not imposed upon her the 21st century expectations of being skilled at combat, conman ship and still being dressed to the nines. Nusrat Imrose Tisha fights a world of gangsters with the help of her fellow heroin-intoxicated “brothers”, people who rescue her from the whirlwind of social exclusion. Not a lot is shown as to how close she is to the heroin racket, yet her romance with Selim has been treated with a lot of genuine care.
A crime drama is no joke, and can go very wrong if not given its due attention. Koli 2.0 is Bangladesh’s answer to the dark, gritty genre the world appreciates so widely. The webseries is a work of art, for all intents and purposes. The ending, which I am taking precaution to not let on, makes the audience crave for more stories from the saga of Koli, Selim and the tyrannical Aka.
Qazi Mustabeen Noor works with Arts & Letters. Send her an email at [email protected]