Kaala Paani Season 1 Review

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: October 19, 2023
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Kaala Paani Season 1 Review


Kaala Paani is an excellent bit of craftsmanship, boasting nuanced acting and complex, relevant themes.

There has been a fair amount of fuss about Kaala Paani on Netflix, the first – if the press materials are to be believed – survival series out of India. What is such a thing? Pretty much all pop entertainment shows are, on some level at least, about survival, and there’s something about the word that conjures a reality format.

But this seven-part original series isn’t about a bunch of Z-listers trying to rekindle the dying embers of their careers by surviving a remote island – it’s about a who’s who of subcontinent talent trying to navigate a litany of topical themes while… okay, surviving on a remote island.

Kaala Paani Season 1 review and plot summary

Those islands are the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, home to an endangered indigenous community and many more endangered tourists lured there by a pending festival. The themes are the obvious ones – deforestation, uncompromising industry, and the difficulties of managing the impact of a major pandemic without violating personal liberties or affecting anyone’s bottom line.

This, it needn’t be said, is coming after an alarmingly recent global pandemic, and the similarities between COVID-19 and Leptospiral Hemorrhagic Fever (LHF-27) are obvious. Kaala Paani might be set in the near future, but it’s being released in a world still reeling from the exact kind of public health disaster it envisages. This gives Sameer Saxena’s series a stinging relevance.

Corruption, panic, and incompetence infiltrating all levels of government and the populace will be familiar to anyone who watched their elected officials lie to their faces – this, I think, is basically everyone – and the cautionary tale about violating nature and displacing indigenous people will ring uncomfortably true.

Biswapati Sarka’s script spends enough time contextualizing the bad decisions in flashbacks that the show’s present-day feels more like an inevitability than a speculative future. Sarka and directors Saxena and Amit Golani are a little too prone to a metaphor though. The life-giving natural properties of water – a good chunk of the plot revolves around a pipeline project – are pulling obvious double-duty and the old fable about the frog and the scorpion is treated as weirdly revelatory given how commonplace its essential message is.

RELATED: Is Kaala Paani based on a true story?

This, though, doesn’t make the point – that people will hurt others even if it’s not in their self-interest to do so – any less stinging in its accuracy. The moral quandary of the many versus the few has remained at the forefront of philosophical discussions because it has no easy or correct answer, and fables work the same way. They endure because they are, fundamentally, true forever, at least so long as the essential nature of humanity doesn’t significantly alter, which we can all agree is quite unlikely.

A word or two must be spared for the cast. The leads are saddled with a wide range of emotions and rise to the occasion admirably, while surprisingly nuanced supporting characters fill in the gaps. Even the more administrative positions resist the easy temptation to become mustache-twirling caricatures of evildoing executives.

A series for adults

Kaala Paani is, fundamentally, a show for adults, which is rare these days.

It explores complex subjects through multiple narrative tracts, each cleaved into a backdrop eerily similar to reality. It’s written, paced, and acted with real care, with understandable, relatable stakes and three-dimensional, layered characters.

As a piece of craftsmanship, it easily outstrips the majority of waffle on which streaming platforms have built their somewhat less-than-favorable reputations.

What did you think of Kaala Paani Season 1? Comment below.

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Netflix, Streaming Service, TV, TV Reviews
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