‘Paatal Lok’: How our feudal, casteist and communal society churns out murderers

Indian society is made up of the Swarg Lok, Dharti Lok and Paatal Lok, says a protagonist of this new web series. We can’t help but agree with the message: the ‘Paatal Lok’ is our creation, writes Hemraj P. Jangir

Recently Amazon Prime Video has launched a new show called Paatal Lok. This crime drama series, directed by Avinash Arun and Prosit Roy, holds a mirror up to our society. As scriptures and Whatsapp messages tell us, our universe has been divided into three parallel worlds, that is Swarg Lok, Dharti Lok and Paatal Lok. This series is the story of Paatal Lok but it takes us to Dharti Lok as well as Swarg Lok. It touches on our government, the political system, the media, caste-rigid villages, the police. While the show is mostly set in Delhi, it contains glimpses of rural India, too.

The first episode begins with Hathiram Choudhary telling his colleagues that Swarg Lok (Heaven) is where god lives, Dharti Lok (Earth) where people live and Paatal Lok (Hell) where pests live.

Paatal Lok begins with the arrest of four men for an attempt to murder journalist Sanjay Mehra (Neeraj Kabi). Hathiram Choudhary (Jaideep Ahlawat), an ordinary policeman from the Yamuna Vihar Police Station, is charged with investigating the case. Sanjay Mehra, a primetime national TV anchor, is a vocal critic of the government and politicians and a member of Delhi’s high society. Ideologically, he has left-liberal leanings and has been trolled in social media. The investigating officer, Hathiram, says that the lives of people living in Swarg Lok really matter. He believes that’s the reason an investigation is even taking place; many are killed in the Paatal Lok and no one cares. Hathiram comes from a humble (lower middle-class) family background and has had his ups and downs. He wants to get to the bottom of the case, get promoted and make his wife and son happy. 

Ansari (Ishwak Singh), a fresh junior and UPSC aspirant, assists Hathiram. He is brave and intelligent but he is continually at the receiving end of Islamophobic stereotypes. He has realized that Muslims are second-class citizens in a Hindu-majority country. 

So there is the Swarg Lok where people like Sanjay Mehra live and there is the Dharti Lok where Hathiram and Ansari are plodding on. Who are the pests of Paatal Lok? They are the criminals but as the storyline makes it clear, no one is born a criminal. Each of the four accused in the murder attempt has a story tell.

Vishal Tyagi (Abhishek Banerjee), also known as Hathoda Tyagi, is said to have murdered 35 people. He comes from a landowning community in which the fight for lands between brothers are common. His own uncle hired three men to rape and murder Tyagi’s sisters over a land dispute. To avenge the murders, Tyagi bludgeoned to death all three children of the uncle. He went on to work under Donullia, who offered him protection in return for killing scores of people. 

Tope Singh (Jagjeet Sandhu), aka Chaku, was born and brought up in rural Punjab. He comes from a Dalit community and so has had to face castiest comments from his peers. When he was a child, he was humiliated and harassed by upper-caste children. Then he came into contact with a youth organization that is taking on caste-based discrimination and atrocities. With the backing of the organization, he beat up those who had humiliated and harassed him. Like Vishal Tyagi, he ran away from the village and found refuge in the city. 

A still from ‘Paatal Lok’ shows the investigating officer Hathiram (played by Jaideep Ahlawat), his junior colleague Ansari (played by Ishwak Singh) and the four murder suspects

Mairembam Ronaldo Singh (Mary Lyngdoh), aka Chinni, is a transgender abandoned by his family when she was a child and later sexually harassed by local rickshaw pullers in the streets of Delhi. 

Kabir (Aasif Khan) has been hiding his Muslim identity throughout the life because his brother was lynched by a mob that took the meat in his possession to be that of a cow. He ends up in prison and the other inmates slit his throat while yelling ‘jihadi’. While narrating Kabir’s story, his father says, “Jisko humne musalman nahi banne diya aap logon ne usko jihadi bana diya.” (We didn’t let him be a Muslim but you made made him a jihadi.) But the police officers remain unsympathetic and unapologetic, showing how deep the communal hatred really is. 

So these are the life stories of the pests in Paatal Lok – stories of how our society has turned them into pests.

An upper-caste politician eating at a Dalit’s home and later bathing in Ganga water to “wash his soul clean”; the mob-lynchings – nothing in Paatal Lok is far removed from the reality we live in. The script and the characters are powerful. They will leave you with some questions but provide you with the answers, too.

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