Khakee: The Bihar Chapter on Netflix Presents a Spine-Chilling True Story

Mahanth is Editor

We often think of serial killers as the worst of the worst when it comes to criminality. But the state of Bihar in India produced a real-life monster at the turn of the century who was yet another step above that. Pintu Mahto, aka Chandan Mahto was no run of the mill serial killer; he actually led a series of massacres in the early 2000s, one of them during a dramatic jailbreak. The corpses of cops and innocent villagers including women and children were left in the wake of this wild rampage. Often the motivation for this sociopathic behavior seemed to just be to prove a point: that he could, and then get away with it.

The man called upon to stop this ongoing savagery was an elite Indian Police Service (IPS) Officer Amit Lodha (played extremely well by dashing Omar Sharif lookalike Karan Tacker), who wrote the book Bihar Diaries you can find on Amazon to chronicle the long and dangerous cat and mouse game between cop and killer. But Lodha was actually supposed to just be a pawn in the game against Mahto (brilliantly portrayed by a rugged looking Avinash Tiwary), and was set up from the beginning to fail. The book was adapted for the screen as a Netflix India original (with English subtitles), and a highly entertaining one at that. Brilliant writing, excellent acting by many, and spot-on direction by Dhulia Bhav combined to force me to finish it off in 3 nights. It is a great addition to the pantheon of Indian crime television, which seems to keep getting better and better and can now be accessed around the world by streaming at your fingertips right now.

Bihar provides a wretched, poor and yet still eerily beautiful backdrop to the story. Lodha not only faces a gangster with no scruples, including threatening his wife and son. He has one hand cuffed behind his back thanks to a thick cloud of pervasive corruption in the ranks of both police and politicians. Honest cops are few and far between, and they inevitably get hamstrung. Lodha has cops under him and also above him who are compromised via sympathy or by payroll by Chandan Mahto, who is something of a Robin Hood figure in Bihar and even has high-level politicians in his pocket, all of which serves to throw various roadblocks in the way of Lodha’s quest for justice. It can be frustrating to see the deck stacked against the good guys time and again, even for the viewer who knows how this story will eventually end. It is the process that is the fun part of this show.

In order to overcome these roadblocks. Lodha is forced to play dirty, and as the audience who witnessed several mass shootings most of us watching would be all for it. The 7 part series does not hide from some of the harsh realities that probably have elements of truth in modern Indian policing: prisoners including Lodha’s best buddy Chywavanprash are beaten or sleep deprived in custody, probably illegally. Tapping the cell phones of the criminals’ friends and families was novel at the time, and all part of the game. A suspended cop is recruited to join in the hunt below radar without official authorization. Lodha is not above holding a gun to the head of a bad guy, or threatening his family and friends either. Again, you cannot help but cheer on the small group of honest policemen as their desperate activities are just the means to a righteous end.

Along the way are twists and turns, and what seems to be victory after victory piling up for Chandan Mahto and his nefarious gang as they pick up strength and the adulation of the local population, who help to hide and protect them. Mixed in is the very, very Indian tribalism due to caste, from which Mahto derives much of his power and influence on the dirty streets and also in the hallowed halls of power. At times the odds seem impossible for Lodha’s little force when combining the omnipresent and overarching corruption with the clever and ruthless actions of Mahto, who is a credible character that rose up from the sewers and has few morals except for fierce loyalty to his clan- though betrayal is always just around the corner.

There is great crime television coming out of different corners of the world these days. However, only India can produce content such as Khakee: The Bihar Chapter, that too based on true events from the recent past, because India is a uniquely f***ed up place where poverty, corruption, hopelessness, the caste system, gangsters, and violence combine to paint a tapestry that we should learn more about rather than turn our eyes away and go about our likely more privileged and sheltered daily lives. In order to help improve the socioeconomic problems in India, we need to first understand them.

Hat tip to Sushanth Pai, aka “Putha” of Chennai for another good Indian TV recommendation. Keep them coming, bro.

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