Charlie Chopra & The Mystery of Solang Valley
Vishal Bhardwaj adapting an Agatha Christie novel? That is the kind of pitch that any studio would have not thought twice about to accept before even understanding the logistics. The man, who is known for his literary adaptations, especially those of Shakespeare now decided to take one of the most engaging stories from Agatha Christie - The Sittaford Mystery. Bhardwaj indianizes this saga and sets the storyline in the cold weather of Solang Valley and Manali. Then you manage to have bonafide legends being cast in pivotal characters, the entire Shah clan (Naseeruddin Shah family) and a talented actor like Wamiqa Gabbi as the central point - Charlie Chopra; the recipe was set for being a total knockout from the get-go.
But does that actually happen? Having had the chance to see the entire show beforehand, here's me telling you the good, and the not-so-good aspects of the series that might help you decide whether to watch it or not-
Breaking The Fourth Wall
The best possible decision that Bhardwaj takes with his protagonist here is having Charlie break the fourth wall during several key moments in the show. Gabbi as Charlie, from the first frame itself is actually a fun and chirpy woman whose instincts as a detective are impeccable but at the heart, she is a true-blue Punjabi. Every time, a twist occurs or a big reveal happens, Charlie looks at us and mouths, 'bhen di lakkad' (or something of that regard.)
She never abuses but her emotions are palpable and you feel actually being with Charlie in her quest to find the killer. It is such a refreshing way to use this technique of having your main character break the fourth wall and talk directly to you. This can easily be overused thus leading to being annoying but that line is never crossed with Charlie.
It helps that you have such a fine artiste like Gabbi doing that as those moments of exiting the world she is in for a brief moment is genuinely impactful just the way it is intended to be. Even the small moment like when a character is flirting with her in the show, she breaks the wall to tell us 'ye toh gaya', thus making it funny and delightful.
The Humor & The Second Part of the Mystery
Bhardwaj might be known for his 'darkness' when it comes to the subject matter but his knack for humor is something that doesn't get enough credit. It is dry and sometimes even deadpan but an absolute blast to see and experience. Contrary to that, the humor in Charlie Chopra isn't so and is rather conventional and on-the-face but fortunately, it still lands. The maximum chunk of it is associated with Charlie herself but even then some of the situations are hysterical which acts as a much needed relief from the mood and atmosphere of the world and the characters.
Coming to the part which should be mind-bending - well, it isn't. The actual suspense of who killed Brigedier Meherbaan (Gulshan Grover) is something you can predict yourself from a long way out. About four and a half episodes are spent in one character after the other being ruled out to be the killer - which is standard treatment to a whodunit.
However, to Bhardwaj's credit, the second part of the mystery - after the main killer is revealed and there is another mega shock in store for you is what truly surprises you as the viewer. For that you need to be patient and hold on till the dying minutes of the finale.
Getting Too 'Dark' & Predictability
As hinted above, the main murder and the perpetrator in question surrounding which the film is set in, gets rather predictable and doesn't have much novelty attached to it even after that person is exposed. Apart from that, the trope of having each character being ruled out gradually but having their own dark secret is also anticipated.
While you understand that the makers chose to work with the cold weather as the atmosphere where lighting is almost a constant issue; the 'darkness' gets too literal here rather than being metaphorical. Several scenes are almost too dark to even see what exactly is going on and that becomes quite a concern. This will especially play a role as maximum set of people are going to be watching the show on their cell phones or such small devices. It does hinder the experience to quite an extent.
The Dream Cast & Their Performances
I mean, it is literally a dream cast to assemble and only someone like Vishal Bhardwaj could have been able to do it. The most endearing factor is having the entire Shah clan be a part of the show and have entirely opposite roles to each other.
Naseeruddin Shah's quirky role, Ratna Pathak Shah's mysterious playfulness, Vivaan Shah's innocence but having his own demon to deal with and Imaad Shah's carefree avatar but attached to something important - it is all such a delight.
Then the likes of stalwarts Neena Gupta, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Gulshan Grover, fine talents like Lara Dutta and Paoli Dam, and a rising actor like Priyanshu Painyuli - it cannot get any better than this. Needless to say, these veterans and talented faces deliver what is expected of them and keeps you hooked consistently.
Charlie Chopra & The Mystery of Solang Valley manages to assemble a dream ensemble with a legendary filmmaker thus promising a match made in heaven but unfortunately, doesn't exactly deliver to its full potential, while still being a decent whodunit with great humor and spot-on usage of breaking the fourth wall. The show might not surprise you but would still keep you engaged throughout its runtime.
Rating - *** (3/5)