It isn’t always neat and tidy, but Randeep Hooda capably carries CAT through its eight episodes.
This review of the Punjabi Netflix series CAT season 1 is spoiler-free.
After last being seen on Netflix in the Chris Hemsworth action vehicle Extraction, Randeep Hooda leads the new eight-part series CAT. And I lead with this because the series, which is action-packed and engaging even despite its tendency to veer off the rails somewhat, rests completely on his shoulders. If nothing else, the show might reveal some of the depths of Hooda’s talents to a western audience unfamiliar with his work, which seems like reason enough to give CAT a watch this weekend.
As for the particulars, it’s the usual genre fare. As a youngster, Gary went undercover in a group of separatists to avenge the deaths of his parents. After, he reinvented himself as Gurnam Singh, though never quite managed to completely distance himself from the crimes of his past. In the present day, once again for family, Gurnam immerses himself in a Punjab drug racket and finds himself amid a game being played in the arenas of politics, crime, and finance.
Any crime stories of this type rely on typical sources of tension, most related to the moral compromise of living a double life and the threat of being exposed. It’s along these tightropes that Hooda walks and makes such a case for himself as a serious screen presence, someone who allows a character’s interiority to affect his performance in subtle, restrained ways.
The same cannot always be said of CAT itself, which tends to focus on the bigger picture and become unmoored from Hooda’s gripping performance. The writing can’t match him. Stylistically the series is inconsistent as it cycles through directors and approaches, expanding outwards but failing to deliver a compelling justification for doing so. Subplots and side characters are not always satisfying and are resolved too neatly. The pace sags here and there. Within CAT is a tighter, better six-episode story.
But, as mentioned, Hooda excels, and there’s a brutal forthrightness to the story that is also compelling. The danger to the characters feels real; the world feels well-observed. This is primarily in Punjabi rather than Hindi, adding authenticity to the setting, which was captured across 80 locations. Creator Balwinder Singh Janjua didn’t film on sets, and you can tell. That local touch matters.
Beyond all this, CAT is just a nippy thriller, with plenty of twists and turns and the wide-ranging appeal of various genres. It can’t always sustain the suspense it builds, but at the very least it’s able to build it again when it needs to. Imperfect though it may be, Hooda’s series – and it absolutely is Hooda’s series – makes for a pretty easy recommendation in an otherwise light, internationally-dominated weekend of streaming.