Over the last few years, Bollywood’s A-list stars have been forced to release the odd movie straight to OTT platforms, either without a theatrical release or after a relatively brief stint at the box office. Salman Khan did it with Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai, Akshay Kumar with Sooryavanshi and Atrangi Re, and the experiment has been moderately successful. What we haven’t really seen is an A-list star committing to a recurring TV show — until recently, with Madhuri Dixit’s The Fame Game (on Netflix) and now Ajay Devgn’s Rudra: The Edge of Darkness, on Hotstar.
Rudra is an official remake of Neil Cross’s hit BBC series Luther, which stars Idris Elba as the titular cop John Luther, a brilliant but volatile detective who tackles ultra-violent, psychologically complex cases in London. BBC was involved in the transposition of their IP from London to Mumbai, and as a result the six episodes closely resemble their first-season counterparts from Luther. Like Luther, Rudraveer Pratap Singh (Devgn) too is facing an existential crisis on both personal and professional fronts. Rudra has recently allowed a paedophile to fall to his death. And his wife Shai (Esha Deol) has asked for some time out from their marriage.
Perhaps the biggest point of divergence from Luther is the protagonist himself, and much of that boils down to the fact that Devgn hasn’t really played a challenging character like this in a while, content with variations on the superhero/ supercop spectrum. Elba’s Luther is a cerebral man, yes, but the actor is also great at using his voice and his physicality to convey the danger and the unpredictability around the character — a classic ‘loose cannon’. Devgn’s Rudra in comparison comes across merely as a reticent, brooding obsessive with the occasional rage-tantrum.
He does look dope, smoking pensively on rooftops and alleyways, I will give him that. These are classic Chandler/ Hammett ‘gumshoe’ vibes. But every time Rudra threatens to achieve actual coolness, he does demonstrably silly things like wear a dun-coloured trench coat on a bright day in Mumbai, the city where your sweat glands eventually sprout sweat glands of their own. Was this done for the express purpose of making the character look more like John Luther (who being a tall, well-built London cop wears plenty of trench coats that look like great big slabs of dirt)? We’ll never know.
Which isn’t to say that Rudra is a failure per se — despite the somewhat stumbling first couple of episodes, Devgn delivers a decent performance in the season’s second half. One of the highlights of Luther was Ruth Wilson’s scene-stealing performance as the charming psychopath Alice Morgan, who’s obsessed with Luther and tries too hard to be his friend. In Rudra, we have the precocious, cold-blooded Dr. Aliyah Choksi, played by Rashi Khanna, who’s clearly having a lot of fun playing a character unburdened by empathy.
6 on 10
Her ‘frenemy’ act with Devgn begins awkwardly but becomes quite watchable and even oddly moving by the end of the series. Atul Kulkarni is similarly efficient as Rudra’s long-suffering colleague Gautam, the veteran actor looking as assured as ever in a role that grows in importance as the series progresses.
On the whole, despite its very visible limitations, I’d give Rudra a score of maybe 6 on 10, especially when one considers the quality of the average Indian police procedural. It did get me thinking as to which other BBC properties could be effectively adapted using Indian settings. There is, perhaps, some enterprising and historically sound way to create a Downton Abbey-like show, no doubt. God knows there are more than enough super-feudal backdrops to choose from across this country. Similarly, a home-grown period gangster epic (much like the first 30-odd minutes of Gangs of Wasseypur, set in pre-Independence India) could be fashioned from the framework of Peaky Blinders.
But what I really want, and what I would pay good money to watch, is a good Indian remake of Hustle, a long-running, hyper-stylised, thoroughly entertaining dramedy about ‘The London Five’, a crew of experienced con artists running outrageous schemes targeting the city’s elite. Both Delhi and Mumbai would be great settings, actually. Hopefully, if such a series materialises, Netflix or Hotstar can persuade an A-list star to headline the crew — Devgn does just enough in Rudra to convince them, I think.
Aditya Mani Jha is a writer and journalist working on his first book of non-fiction.