Lies, Deceit and Family Mayhem:
In the OTT space in India, thrillers seem to be popular regardless of the violence, sex and profanity that are the norm. A few of the major shows have been adapted from foreign sources, but the ones that attract the viewers are plots in which family is entangled—Mirzapur, The Family Man, Your Honour, Undekhi, Arya, Candy, Aranyak, to name just a few.
The latest to stream on Zee TV—Bloody Brothers—has been adapted from a BAFTA-winning British series, Guilt, and suitably Indianised. That kinky villain could only have come from old-style Bollywood movies. Shaad Ali, just out of the disaster that was the Indian version of Call My Agent, gets to work with failsafe material—Guilt being acclaimed as the British Fargo.
Ooty stands in for Edinburgh from the original, giving the otherwise dark plot a visual appeal missing from the overall grunge of shows set in the north Indian hinterland. Jagjeet Grover (Jaideep Ahlawat) is a lawyer, caught up in scams, the extent of which he does even know. He has settled his nerdy younger brother Daljeet (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) to manage a book shop-cum-café, even though there is barely a customer for books in the town.
When driving back from a wedding, Daljeet knocks down an old man, and only a very drunk or very daft person would carry the victim into his house, settle him in a chair and then leave his wallet behind. An exasperated Jaggi “Paaji” helps, because that’s what brothers do. The dead man, Samuel Alvarez (Asrani) had cancer, so nobody found his death suspicious and he was buried without an autopsy.
If Daljeet did not have to go back to the bungalow to retrieve his wallet, and pretend to be a friend, he would not have met Sophie (Tina Desai), Alvares’s niece, and fallen in love with her. The brothers had almost gotten away with the crime, but for Sophie’s unexpected presence. To calm the fears of the niece, Jaggi offers to hire a private investigator, and asks his alcoholic assistant to do the job, hoping he would botch it, as expected. But Dushyant (Jitendra Joshi) gives up booze and starts taking the assignment very seriously. In trying to cover up for the string of lies they are forced to tell, they keep getting sucked deeper into a quagmire. Then there is the devious neighbour Sheila (Maya Alagh) who witnessed the accident, but preferred to keep quiet, because Alvarez’s death suits her.
The bookshop is a money-laundering front for the unsavory criminal dealings of Handa (Satish Kaushik), the bald-headed, cigar-puffing, creepy don (who calls himself Handa saab!) with a raspy voice and excessively loquacious manner. Had Daljeet not decided to look carefully at the papers he had been signing on Jaggi’s instructions, he would not have become a threat for Handa’s operations.
While Jaggi tries to keep Daljeet safe from Handa henchmen, he has to deal with a disgruntled wife (Shruti Seth), who discovers love with her gym instructor (Mughda Godse), who happens to be Handa’s moll. Handa has her around to pour his drinks, because he likes his booze served by pretty women –yes, an Ajit throwback line, like the vintage Hindi movie villain’s favourite Golden Eagle whiskey bottle not seen on screen for many years.
Unlike other crime series on Indian streaming platforms, this one is relatively gore-free, does not have characters uttering swear words in every line. Even when Handa uses a crude example to drive home a point to Jaggi, he explains that he is not in the habit of being coarse. More than physical violence, the series relies on plot twists, humour, and performances—both Ahlawat and Ayyub are superb. The relationship between the brothers is what keeps the sharp edge in the narrative—the viewer can never tell when they will stand by each other and when they will betray without any qualms. Kaushik, as Hammy Handa, is the only one who strikes a false note in the series.
Guilt had a Season 2 out in the UK, in which the older brother comes out of jail and gets into another mess as he tries to straighten out his life, so Bloody Brothers has its work cut out; there is a Season 3 in the works too, to complete the Guilt trilogy.