The Whistleblower (Season 1) SonyLIV Review: The faltering narrative works only when focused on the scam
Ever since Scam 1992, Sony Liv‘s emergence in the OTT space has been noteworthy. The streaming service has been known to deliver stories based on the stronger source material and interesting foundations; be it this year’s Tabbar, or Undekhi, or A Simple Murder. The Whistleblower too can rest comfortably in Sony Liv’s stable of original series as one which has a strong premise or source to base upon.
The Whistleblower is a 9 episode web series directed by Manoj Pillai. The story written by Ajay Monga is based on the PMT Scam or Vyapam Scam of 2013. The fictional narrative follows Sanket Bhadoria, an intern doctor working at his father – Dr Ashwin Bhadorai – owned Reliable Hospitals. He soon discovers an entrance exam scam led by politician Jairaj Jatav (Ravi Kishen). Lured by greed, Sanket agrees to become a part of it until tragedy strikes due to his involvement in the said scam. He teams up with his girlfriend and an intrepid reporter to reveal the scam, but slowly finds himself in deep water as the depth of the rot in the system is slowly revealed.
Ajay Monga and director Manoj Pillai’s focus on the details of the scam and how deep the rot runs is where ‘The Whistleblower’ truly shines. The explanation as to how the Vyapam Scam (here known as RPM scam) actually happens, how the exams are given via proxies and how much of involvement is wrapped up in this scam from high-level politicians to businessmen, to even the peons at the coaching centres. It’s also interesting how the corruption and the scam occur not just in the medical field but also in the appointment of police cadets and other professions as well. Even the narrative exploring these facets of the storytelling is at its strongest here.
However, the fictionalized narrative of the show is where it is arguably at its weakest. This could be because of a change in the storytelling structure. In most stories serving as primers of real-life scams, the storytelling usually follows two differing extremes. Either it follows the ringleader who originates the scam, showcasing him as a compelling figure who rises up the ranks and slowly becomes the villain of his own story; or the story follows a relative outsider looking in, preferably someone from the media, doing a dogged investigation into the scam and the story moves from there. Here though the protagonist Sanket is squarely in the middle. He is an outsider who gets interested in the scam because of greed and gets involved, but is then convinced to bring to light the corruption became of extenuating circumstances.
On paper, he is an interesting character and not really very likeable, and Ritwick Bhowmik of Bandish Bandits is clearly having the most fun sinking his teeth into such a character. His Sanket is very different from the protagonist of Bandish Bandits, and Ritwick’s performance far outshines the character on paper who also gives a narrative voiceover which is irritating and instead of sounding portentous and ominous comes off as corny. The writing of his character doesn’t exactly make him a very compelling one.
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The strongest moments are the interactions of Sanket with Ravi Kishen’s Jairaj or “Dadda” who develops a mentor-protege relationship with Sanket. Kishen too gets a far meatier role more befitting his acting prowess. Kishen had already proven his acting chops in 2017’s Mukkabaaz and while Jairaj is definitely not as much of a departure as that character was, it still is a delight to see Kishen both hamming up in his signature style while also really delving into the complexities of his character and his story. Jairaj is not someone to root for but the reasoning behind his actions aren’t entirely without merit.
‘The Whistleblower’ does have a protagonist problem, as supporting characters like Ashish Verma’s Anup, the intrepid reporter becomes a far more interesting character to follow around at times. The show also has an issue of introducing characters very quickly in conversations and scenes in one episode and then not referencing that character for at least two subsequent episodes, until he suddenly appears and the show moves on expecting you to remember that the character was only mentioned in passing. It wouldn’t be a problem if the show’s focus on all its plots were evenly paced or were better developed.
The subplot about Sanket’s girlfriend’s sister, and her entering the medical college takes an ample amount of screen time in the first 4 episodes and then completely dropped until the last episode. It is even more noticeable because that entire subplot isn’t as hard-hitting or even as remotely interesting as the details of the scam or the effects it has outwards. There are also moments where impactful events happen off-screen between episodes and are later referenced without necessary context. At times the viewers are left to catch up and while the breathless pacing of the narrative is an understandable choice, a meaty topic like the Vyapam scam deserves all the necessary context and far more deft writing.
This does detract from what is otherwise a very gritty, raw and realistic show from an aesthetic viewpoint. It also feels very meticulously researched, at least in terms of the corruption or the scam being explored. The casting of the show too feels very on point and very much as it fits into the narrative. However, unlike Scam 1992, which the show very much takes inspiration from even in its opening credits score itself, the show tries to be both a pulpy gangster and crime drama, as well as a meticulously researched look at a scam. These are two very conflicting tones and doesn’t entirely gel very well. However, at each episode running around 42 mins, The Whistleblower is an engaging watch, albeit far more uneven than its meaty premise or meticulous research deserved.