Tooth Pari (Season 1) ‘Netflix’ Review: The concept of the vampire, the gothic blood-sucking feudal or medieval era lord or high-class aristocrat with a penchant for blood, has been a staple for pulp storytelling within the West. Vampires and werewolves became, to a certain degree, some of the defining iconographies for horror and gothic literature. Even modern adaptations of the concept of the vampire are still prevalent, even if the critical reception towards all these projects has been relatively spread out. The longevity, perhaps indicative of the concept of the vampire, is because of the seductive and romantic nature of the vampire as well as an attraction towards immortality.
When you are transplanting such a Western horror iconography in the Indian landscape, the world-building, at least theoretically, needs to be very deeply ingrained or designed within the Indian context. If there is one thing you cannot fault in creator and director Pratim D. Gupta’s eight-episode series, it is how much effort he has taken to craft this world and plausibly set it within the real-world history of Kolkata. He even touches upon the Naxalite movement, integrating that into the core plot of why the vampires choose to stay underground before shifting to the modern world.
Although the vampire underground lair looks like an 80s-themed disco bar set within the Blade Runner universe, complete with its own “blood bar” and glass cubicle-shaped pods embossed within the rock surface, there is an effort to make it feel lived-in amidst its tackiness and its intentional low-budget aesthetic. The moments where the lair periodically shakes because it is hidden below a metro station, with a secret entrance to boot, are again an interesting wrinkle.
Eagle-eyed viewers who are Kolkata residents would also catch a specific Easter egg when they realize which metro station the lair is set in. There are vampire hunters who are called Cutmundus (the literal translation is “cut heads”), who have been waging a secret war against these vampires, and finally, when the show opens, there is already a rule in place for vampires to not walk amongst the surface dwellers.
It’s perhaps a lot, and the writing doesn’t help. But the world-building is intricate and feels as lovably crafted as a child conjuring his first fictional narrative. That is perhaps the most accurate description that could be given because the dialogues too feel like they were written by one, a mix of cringe laced with sincerity. Perhaps, it’s the correct amount in balancing out the tonality and producing the one genre very few manage to execute: campy.
A campy tone is when events or tones are deliberately exaggerated for humorous effect. It is a hard line to straddle, and it would be wrong to suggest that the show manages to maintain that. The depiction of Bengali culture is so stereotypical that at this point Bengalis should join hands in protest against all media depicting them in this light, especially in their banter and exaggerated accents. However, there are also moments of genuine interaction and in-jokes that could only be crafted by someone cognizant of the culture. Again, it’s a balancing act.
The show’s biggest strength is also the one that took me by surprise: the central romance. When Rumi, a female vampire, has to go to the dentist because she has bitten the prosthetic neck of one of her targets at a party (I can’t believe I am writing this, but seriously) and broken one of her fangs, she has to come to a young dentist for help.
Their relationship starts as a meet-cute, with the dentist Dr. Roy fainting at the sight of blood and her having to wake him up, or him trying to get close to her while they are both lying outstretched at the center stage of an old theatre. The dialogues sometimes feel weirdly anachronistic, especially when Rumi (Tanya Maniktala) calls him Doc Roy, but you buy the love story blossoming because of the chemistry between the leads.
Tanya Maniktala and Shantanu Maheshwari as Rumi and Roy are fun characters to follow, and you root for this forbidden love to blossom and stay, even as Roy tries to test Rumi in increasingly stupid ways. We also have Sikander Kher’s character Kartik Pal, who plays a disgruntled police officer with knowledge about the weird supernatural elements of Kolkata’s underbelly due to his Alzheimer’s-ridden father Biren Pal (Anjan Dutt) and his stories.
His character progression as a flawed individual who gets involved in a murder in which Rumi too becomes a prime suspect and inadvertently gets involved in Rumi and Roy’s relationship is played for comedic effect. It is debatable whether it always works, but Kher is having a ball hamming it up.
At the same time, the show also feels as if it is running three or two episodes too long because, towards the middle section of the show, it starts feeling like the narrative, excluding the central romance, is spinning in circles. It’s frustrating as a viewer to watch the show once you get past its campy trappings and start seeing its potential, only to see it fumble the ball by the end.
The leader of the Cutmundus Luna Luka (Revathy) is a headstrong and determined Wicca who leads a group of elder statesmen dedicated to purging the vampires and preventing them from coming up to the surface. The sequence where the septuagenarians explain why their age is hindering them from being effective against the vampires is fun in its nonchalance and relatability, while also strengthening the world of the show by grounding it.
However, as the show progresses, Luna’s character doesn’t develop enough for us to believe that she or Cutmundus are compelling antagonists. Neither does the character of AD (Adil Hussain), a mysterious human who has leverage against the vampires. The storytelling regarding this subplot is spotty at best, and thus, while we are told about a ticking clock or dire punishment should a vampire fall in love with a human or be found killing a live human being, there is never a semblance of anything resembling stakes. As for the depiction of supernatural powers amongst the vampires and Luna Luka, they are few and far between, but it could be safely said that the primary focus hasn’t been on the special effects-heavy fight sequences or visceral moments involving vampires.
Tooth Pari is an interesting experiment, a positive step in a genre (“horror comedy”) that doesn’t become slapstick or too stupid for its own good. The campy tone has always been a hard one to crack, even in the West, and creator Pratim D. Gupta should be applauded for trying to execute that sensibility while also managing to bring in an aesthetic resembling a neo-noir and a B-movie hearkening back to the Shaw Brothers.
The casting in the show is unusually on point, with a murderer’s row of Bengali thespians strengthening the supporting foundation for the leads. That helps in massaging over the half-baked world-building and the cringy dialogue, which feels like, it can’t decide whether it is a spoof of all the vampire movies, or if it is just playing it straight as a mediocre horror comedy.
Tooth Pari season 1 sure is a fun binge, and rom-com lovers might find a lot to enjoy in this weird mish-mash, which I am surprisingly looking forward to watching should it get renewed for a second season.
Also, Read: Renfield (2023) Review: A Crisis Of Conscience Born Out of The Desires of A Narcissistic Boss
Watch Tooth Pari (Season 1) Trailer Here
Tooth Pari (2023) Series Links – IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes
Tooth Pari (2023) series Cast – Taniya Maniktala, Shantanu Maheswari, Sikandar Kher, Tillotama Shome, Saswata Chatterjee