Disney+ Hotstar’s Telugu web series Dayaa is based on the Bengali series Taqdeer. If you think they have taken an easier route with a remake as opposed to an original story, the multi-layered plot, as it unfolds, proves it is ripe to be skilfully adapted to suit a new region. Pavan Sadineni, who previously directed the film Senapathi, ups the game with Dayaa headlined by J D Chakravarthy.
It’s a coincidence that the slow burn series set in the coastal region in the vicinity of Kakinada and Rajahmundry arrives on the heels of 25 years of Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya which starred JD in the titular role. In one of the later episodes of Dayaa, through a whistle-worthy moment, Pavan Sadineni doffs his hats to that iconic film and its titular character named Satya.
In the first episode, Vivek Kalepu’s camera gives us plenty of bird’s eye views of a market in a port town where nearly every inch of space is taken over by numerous vendors who sell their catch. Dayaa (J D Chakravarthy) drives a freezer van and goes about his mundane job matter-of-factly. We get the sense of an underlying pathos in his eyes and the narrative drops subtle cues to indicate that Dayaa may not be what he seems. Anyone habituated to mainstream narratives can spot a turnaround from a mile away. A few episodes later, when the rug is pulled from under the viewers’ feet, there’s more in store. Even Dayaa’s name, which stands for mercy, has more to it than that meets the eye.
Pavan, who has written the dialogues with Rakendu Mouli, presents Dayaa’s story as that of an underdog. The freezer van driver has been at work for two days at a stretch, sans food and sleep. His pregnant wife, Alivelu (Eesha Rebba), awaits his return. Again, you get subtle cues to infer that Alivelu may not be the archetypal damsel in distress. Things turn topsy-turvy when Dayaa discovers something in his freezer van that pulls him into a maze of crime and politics.
We get flashes of Dayaa’s story — of his adolescence period when he weeps over his mother’s body — and more. The narrative holds back from revealing too much in the first season, not only for Dayaa but also several other characters. Kavitha (Ramya Nambessan) as an unflinching television reporter, Kaushik (Kamal Kamaraju) as her writer husband, their daughter, the office politics with Kavitha’s TRP-minded bosses and colleagues, another young reporter Shabana (Vishnupriya Bhimineni), Dayaa’s trusted friend Prabha (Ravi Josh), a no-nonsense cop (Mayank Parakh) and several others are part of the ensemble cast. There are also the stereotypical bad buys — a local politician (Babloo Prithveeraj) and another venomous character who does not speak but sends a shudder down the spine.
The subplots that explore a multitude of issues — a sexual assault victim’s identity being revealed by the media, an unethical pharmaceutical clinical trial — also expose the fault lines in the media, politics and police machinery.
The director gets adequate help from editor Viplav Nyshadam in weaving together the different aspects, revealing segments of several backstories from time to time, to add to the intrigue. Shravan Bharadwaj’s background score and Vivek Kalepu’s cinematography accentuate the drama without drawing attention to themselves.
Dayaa is not without niggles. I haven’t watched the Bangladeshi original to know if the story and the characters have been replicated without changes, but certain aspects could have been better. For instance, it is silly that an investigative journalist who is said to be among the best in the country is shown to prematurely reveal her findings to a powerful suspect. Why, for heaven’s sake, would she also foolishly display a pen drive when there is an imminent threat?
Despite such missteps, Dayaa makes for an engaging watch. Season one is possibly designed as a prelude to a larger drama in season two. Alivelu’s character, for example, seems like the trailer to a bigger possibility.
Dayaa’s strength also stems from the performances. J D Chakravarthy is superb as the understated and brooding Dayaa, shifting from being a hapless victim to a man who can call the shots. Ramya Nambessan befits her part as a stoic crime journalist who is also vulnerable. Vishnupriya as Shabana conveys the enthusiasm and naivete required on her part. We do not see enough of Eesha Rebba but she is effortlessly convincing as Alivelu. One hopes Alimelu offers more in the next season. Convincing performances also come from Kamal Kamaraju, Ravi Josh and Prithveeraj.
The dependable ensemble cast and the multi-layered, intriguing narrative make Dayaa an absorbing series with potential for a smarter follow-up.