With a meandering plot and subplots, the third season of the popular crime series, set in the badlands of Uttar Pradesh’s Purvanchal, shines in a few scenes, but remains underwhelming

When the first season of Mirzapur, the saga of grit, gore and gumption set in the badlands of Uttar Pradesh, was released in 2018, it was a visceral gut-punch even for crime fans accustomed to seeing bloodshed galore. Taking a leaf from the massive success of Gangs of Wasseypur I-II (2012), the tale of varchasv ki ladai (battle for supremacy) is an unvarnished, close-to-the-bone portrayal of the nexus between dreaded criminals, corrupt cops and crooked but calculating politicians.

The mafioso King of Mirzapur, Akhandanand Tripathi aka Kaleen Bhaiya (the inimitable Pankaj Tripathi), a millionaire carpet exporter, wields control over the Purvanchal region’s lucrative carpet business and illicit arms trade. His short-tempered, abusive, power-hungry son, Munna Tripathi (the very talented Divyenndu Sharma, who won hearts with his edgy, powder-keg performance, and with his witty one-liners), struggles to inherit his father’s empire, often resorting to cold-blooded violence to prove his worth.

But two ambitious brothers, Guddu (Ali Fazal, who gets into the skin of the hotheaded fitness enthusiast with dreams of wealth and power) and the level-headed and studious Bablu Pandit (the understated Vikrant Massey), come in Munna’s way after they are drawn into Kaleen Bhaiya’s world. In the showdowns that marked the culmination of Season 1 and Season 2, we saw Guddu and Golu Gupta (Shweta Tripathi Sharma), survive, and avenge the death of their brother and sister. There is more blood. More bodies riddled with bullets. In Kaleen Bhaiya’s brutal world of power and pelf, loyalties shift, and keep getting tested.

A turning point

When Season 2 ends, the kingpin’s loyal henchman, Maqbool (Shaji Chaudhary), and shrewd wife Beena Tripathi (Rasika Dugal, who lives the character with the deftness and ease that have become her hallmark), grapple with their own conflicting loyalties. Beena, haunted by her past traumas, is propelled by a desire to exact revenge against the Tripathis, especially Satyanand Tripathi aka ‘Bauji,’ the ageing, debauched patriarch, confined to a wheelchair, who loves watching National Geographic; a predator obsessed with how wild animals catch or ambush their prey.

Mirzapur marked a turning point in Indian OTT history because it proved that the audience was ready to accept a cocktail of profanity, violence and sex if a good story was told well. The first season became so popular that social media was flooded with Mirzapur memes; the series achieved an iconic status in the public consciousness in the same manner that Gangs of Wasseypur had done six years ago. However, if Season 1 was an out-and-out triumph, things started to go awry in Season 2. There was swagger and bluster, but the magic seemed to be slipping away. In Season 3, Guddu and Golu, who have become the beasts of their own, have a nearly free run. With Munna out of the picture, and Kaleen Bhaiya underground, they seem unstoppable. They have had their sweet revenge, and train focus on consolidating their hold over Mirzapur throne that symbolises unbridled power in the eyes of Purvanchal’s bahubalis.

Meanwhile, Sharad Shukla (Anjumm Sharma), Kaleen Bhaiya’s ambitious nephew whose father, Jaunpur chieftain Rati Shankar Shukla (Shubrajyoti Barat), was murdered by Guddu in Season 1, has come into his own, and plots to stake claim to the Mirzapur throne with Madhuri Yadav (Isha Talwar), Munna’s widow and the CM of Uttar Pradesh who wants a crime-free (Bhay Mukt) Purvanchal. Shatrughan (Vijay Varma, who has perfected the dark roles), the son of Siwan ganglord Dadda (Liliput Faruqui), goes on a rampage. At one point in the show, Golu tells an impetuous Guddu why he needed to employ brain and not just brawn while making decisions. But Guddu, referred to as Bhasmasur, looks set to self-destruct himself. The series is preoccupied with family ties, love and relationships; slaughter and carnage run as the parallel soundtracks to the lives of its characters. Ramakant Pandit (the brilliant Rajesh Tailang), Guddu’s lawyer father, who fought for his principles and is spending time in jail, urges Guddu to follow Charles Darwin’s survival of the fittest theory in these words: “Doing what you need to do to survive is the only principle worth following.”

A victim of its own ambition

My main gripe with Season 3 is that the high-octane build-up ends in a kind of whimper. There is, of course, the usual adrenaline-filled action and bloodletting and the writers introduce a twist here and a red-herring there, but the lacklustre plot (it meanders, taking detours into unnecessary subplots that feel like fillers) and some underdeveloped characters (many of whom we will likely meet in Season 4), leave little in the hands of directors Gurmmeet Singh and Anand Iyer. The Siwan subplot, for instance, continues to be a distraction, failing to seamlessly integrate with the main narrative. While the writers attempt to connect the dots, it feels disjointed and ultimately detracts from the central storyline.

There is no Munna, and the fun he brought to the table is missing. The absence of Pankaj Tripathi's Kaleen Bhaiya is keenly felt. The female characters have been given more agency and prominence in this season, but there are few issues there, too. Golu’s drastic transformation from a docile girl to a partner in crime trying to claim her own space in the male-dominated world, is compelling, but it feels somewhat forced. Similarly, Isha Talwar’s Madhuri Yadav is good, but not convincing. Dugal’s Beena Tripathi is clearly the most interesting female character in the series, but her screen time is disappointingly limited. Ali Fazal, a powerhouse, and, to an extent, Shweta Tripathi keep us engaged.

In Season 2, an unlikely addition to the show where muscle power reigns supreme, was Robin, aka Radheyshyam Agarwal (Priyanshu Painyuli), the wily love interest of Guddu’s sister Dimpy Pandi (Harshita Agarwal), who seemed to have a few tricks up his sleeve, but in Season 3, he is cast aside rather abruptly, and with no fanfare. A new entry is Rahim (Pallav Singh), a poet who recites risqué poetry in public and is thrown into jail under obscenity act; he makes us laugh, and think, in a couple of scenes, but those are not enough for a series running into nearly 10 hours.

In the end, the third season is a victim of its own success. It seems to be trying to outdo itself, but ends up tripping over its own ambition. It’s a shame because Mirzapur had the potential to be one of the best Indian shows on crime and retribution. In its third season, one is sorry to report, it feels like a missed opportunity. So, should you watch it? If you’re a diehard fan, you’ll probably find something or the other across its 10 episodes to enjoy. There are parts that work well. The production is top-notch, aided by Sanjay Kapoor’s cinematography that keeps its rawness intact. But if you have been hoping for a satisfying fare for the last four years, you might be left wanting, cold. One only hopes that Season 4 salvages and redeems it.

Mirzapur Season 3 is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video

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