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A millennial desi femme fatale and in a saree. That’s Netflix’s ‘Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein’

Anchal Singh’s portrayal of Purva, a small-town femme fatale, feels straight out of Manohar Kahaniyan. Her ‘USP’ is her girl-next-door look.

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Priyanka Chopra made the pretty risky decision to play a femme fatale in the 2004 movie Aitraaz when she was just 21. Seldom did a Bollywood actress choose a role like this at the time, especially if she aspired to be a heroine. But that is precisely what catapulted Priyanka to fame. Vidya Balan and Mahie Gill replicated that choice in 2010 with Ishqiya and 2011 with Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster, respectively. Now it is Anchal Singh’s time. She plays Purva — the first desi millennial femme fatale in a saree — in Netflix’s eight-episode show Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein.

While Tahir Raj Bhasin, who plays the male lead, has always portrayed every role with aplomb — beginning with his breakthrough performance as the antagonist in Mardaani (2014) that makes your skin crawl. He is the ‘victim’ here. His ‘chote sapnein’ of completing engineering, getting a job in Bhilai (at Tata industries most probably), an MBA later, and marrying his college sweetheart Shikha, played by Shweta Tripathi, is as ‘small-town’ as it gets.

What he does not count for is a love triangle, featuring the daughter of the local vidhayak, for whom his father works. Hell arrives at his doorstep in the form of dubious job offers, subtle and not-so-subtle threats and kidnappings, but dressed like a dream with Purva.

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Femme fatale in sarees

Purva is a small-town femme fatale, straight out of Manohar Kahaniyan, a popular pulp magazine in North India. The moment Purva lays her ‘kaali kaali aankhein’ on him as a kid, Vikrant knows she is ‘trouble’. We are more used to femme fatales in Western dresses, preferably floor-length, slip dresses, be it Madhubala as Edna in Howrah Bridge (1958) or even Priyanka Chopra in Aitraaz (2004). But Purva’s ‘USP’ is her girl-next-door look, from flowing Anarkali salwars to sarees and sexy satin lingerie post-marriage, a staple in every small town’s understanding of wedding/honeymoon trousseau.

She may have been in a swimming pool when Vikrant meets her years later, but Purva’s real seduction actually begins after her wedding night, when she says, “I have been saving myself for you.” She is a mix of the traditional, small-town girl in love with her childhood crush, and yet ruthless in ensuring her crush never gets out of her ‘grip’.

She is a spoiled daddy’s girl, who is quite literally the apple of his eye. And she is caring, in a twisted, twisted way. You are equal parts drawn in and repulsed by Purva, and that is the power of Anchal Singh’s performance. When Vikrant supposedly has finally fallen for her, she is happy, all-smiles and wants to be all that he might want, but the moment she suspects he is in love with someone else, she switches gears with lightning speed.

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The small-town formula

There has been a surge of shows and films set in small-town Uttar Pradesh, Bihar in the last few years. Gangs of Wasseypur (2012) and Mirzapur (2018) are the more prominent examples. It was refreshing to hear that dialect and witness the murders, politics,  henchmen killing and kidnapping willy-nilly. But now in 2022, we have seen it all and enough times.

The fictional town of Onkar, probably a reference/nod to Omkara (2006), one of Vishal Bhardwaj’s stellar reimagining of a Shakespeare play. Shweta Tripathi, however, is completely wasted in the role. She does not get her due, and as an audience, you do not get a lot of chances to connect with her character. She is too bechari, and needs Vikrant to save her. In a way, she pales in front of Purva’s character. And though morally, you might want to support her, it is no surprise that she lands into way too much trouble, almost becoming a caricature. Of course, exaggeration is a trope Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein heavily relies on.

Love it or hate it, Yeh Kaali Kaali Ankhein will keep you on the edge of your seat. Be it because you are really astounded by Vikrant making one stupid decision after another, or that you really want to see what Purva and her father do next. It is desi pulp fiction with a femme fatale, and that is all the reason why you should give it a watch.

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