Nila Madhab Panda is known to make films that talk about climate change and issues that affect the environment we live in. Though the filmmaker has made films on other subjects as well, his concern for the environment reflects in many of the feature-length films and documentaries he has made. While ‘Kaun Kitne Paani Mein’ dealt with the issue of water scarcity, ‘Kadvi Hawa’ addressed the issue of climate change. ‘The Jengaburu Curse’, the new series he has made for Sony LIV, has been promoted as India’s first cli-fi or climate fiction series.
Priyamvada/Priya Das (Faria Abdullah) works for a fin-tech company in London. Her father, who has been a professor and campaigns for the rights of the Bondria tribe in Odisha, goes missing. As soon as Priya is informed about her father’s disappearance, she flies to her hometown Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Odisha, to look for him. Priya’s search for her father leads her to stumbling upon details of a large-scale mining project taking place in the Jengaburu region of the state.
As stated earlier, Nila Madhab Panda has made films based on environmental issues in the past. ‘The Jengaburu Curse’, though talks about our environment and the people that inhabit it, is based on a fresh subject that the filmmaker hasn’t explored earlier. This seven-episode series, unlike his films, has scale and designed as a taut thriller.
As the end credits for the first episode start rolling, you realize Madhab and writer Mayank Tewari have made it a point to ensure that the show has a good pace to it. Each episode is around 45 minutes long and packs in a lot of content for the audience to chew on. The series you to a variety of characters and each of them has been etched out very well. In the first episode, for instance, we see Priya reprimanding her colleague, who also happens to be her friend and flatmate, for not doing her work properly. In another scene, we see her watering the plant placed in her superior’s cabin. This establishes the fact that the protagonist is somebody who is sincere and stands by her ethics.
As the series has been structured as a thriller, we get to see several twists and turns along the way. While some of the turns in the narrative take you by surprise, a few of them (like a principal character lying about his identity) would be predicted by anybody. Certain tropes, like Priya’s calls getting traced, are contrived and repeated multiple times for some reason. Some of the key events in the show, like Priya and her companions getting inside the mines, are very convenient and therefore, do not create the desired impact.
The show greatly benefits from the casting and the performances delivered by each of the principal actors. Faria Abdullah puts forward a very confident act as Priyamvada Das and does a spending job of imbuing the pain and trauma the character is going through. As Dhruv Kannan, Sudev Nair brings a sense of righteousness and dignity to his character. The character played by Nasser comes across as slightly undercooked but the veteran actor, as always, delivers a memorable performance. Makrand Deshpande performs ably as Dr. Panigrahy. Deipak Sampat leaves a mark as Kadey.
The biggest triumph of ‘The Jengaburu Curse’ is that it keeps you consistently engaged. Even when it becomes a little predictable, the show never really loses its steam. Mayank, who has to his credit films like ‘Newton’ that are set in a similar world, has a firm grip on the story he is telling. He understands the characters he has designed very well and is well aware of the boundaries within which he is operating. The screenplay written by him has conviction and that’s one of the major reasons why you stay invested in the narrative. Panda, on his part, does a very good of translating Tewari’s vision on the screen.