Asur is one of the most talked-about web series right now. That prompted me to watch this series even though I haven’t watched a web series in a while. While I enjoyed some aspect of storytelling and thriller of this series and found it better than almost a lot of Indian web series out there (Special Ops is better than this one in my opinion), but I also found some major flaws in this series. I will be discussing my views here with SPOILERS.
While the protagonist in the series tells you that the division of right and wrong, good and bad are blurry and man-made, still I will discuss my views in two sections.
What Asur did right
Screenplay & direction are excellent. Without an intelligent direction and good screenplay, you cannot make a good thriller. And on the surface, this is an excellent thriller. Dialogues are also better than most of the other web-series out there (e.g. Sacred games), although I was a bit disappointed in dialogues (which I will come to later). Plot at times was excellent, at times absolutely naive but good direction and storytelling shadowed it off.
Where Asur missed the mark
- A mess of Sanatana philosophy: While “Asur” at times shows that he truly is intelligent and knows what he is talking about. Most of the times he made a mess out of the interpretations and his understandings of Hindu texts. For example, the first basic mistake he did was drawing a false equivalence between Dharma, mazhab, and religion. While addressing his audience, he tells them about the shortcomings of Dharma, but what he was meant was religions and mazhab. There is a massive difference. While this could have been given a pass in a typical web series, the writers and the protagonist are supposed to be well-read, intelligent but they did this basic naive mistake.
Dharma is not religion.
Below is the emblem of the Supreme Court of India. Its motto uses the word Dharma. Clearly, if Dharma meant religion, it would not have found its place in the motto of one of the most powerful and sacred institutions of India. I would urge readers to do more research, perhaps start with this book: Being Different by Rajiv Malhotra.
Also, I noted some of the books that Asur, DJ and others were reading to understand Sanatana Shastras (though they were using the term Hindu mythology which again shows their ignorance on the subject). Two authors that caught my attention were Wendy Doniger and Devdutt Patnaik. This gave me a laugh. No wonder both Asur, DJ (and consequently writers) were all over the place with their naive and somewhat mediocre understanding of Shastras. Both these authors although highly popular, are also very dishonest (and in case of Devdutt incredibly ignorant and idiot too). If you want to understand Sanatana Shastras, you have to be honest, hard-working, dedicated with no prejudices, ideology. These two authors are full of themselves with their prejudices which have led to some of the most incorrect, off-the-mark interpretations and writings of Sanatana Shastras. One of the most influential, renowned scholar our times who himself has written multiple bestsellers, Mr Rajiv Malhotra has researched and talked about them in details.
Also, Asur was contradicting himself in the episodes. Once, he was deluded with Niyati (fate), then he was crying about utpidana (exploitation and victimhood). I have seen this tactic so many times that I have almost grown tired of it. The tactic of showing the villain as a victim and romanticizing about him. Karma was also touched upon but that too somewhat misunderstood by everyone in the series. Which brings me to the biggest missed opportunity of the series.
- Absence of the intellectual counter to Asur: Maybe the writers and directors wanted to do this series in a particular way i.e. to sell the victimhood narrative and romanticization of Asur. Asur was shown as a super genius, deeply knowledgeable with a flawed understanding of Sanatana Shastras. All these flaws would have actually become the plus points of the series if there was someone to intellectually counter Asur. The main characters in this series were absolutely ignorant and even at times idiots. Even the person they took help to understand the philosophy was Asur. So basically, there was no one in this series to put forward the correct and proper interpretations of Sanatana Shastras. In ancient times in Bharat, people used to hold Shastraarthas (debate on Shastras). This would have elevated the series to a whole another level if there was someone who could have intellectually challenge the Asur. In fact, the only character who managed to one-up the Asur in one on one dialogue was Lolark in the end before he was shot dead because of the anger and frustration of Farook. Of course, adding this dimension of an intellectual capability to a character would have required true understanding and research which for some reasons, the writers didn’t show anywhere.
- Not shuddh Hindi!: One of the interesting aspects of Asur was his use of vocabulary and language. He at times delivered incredibly well-written dialogues in supposedly pure Hindi. But, that sadly wasn’t pure Hindi. Dialogues were at times were filled with Arabic, Persian words. Many times, Asur conveniently switched to English. Also, his basic pronunciation of a few Hindi words was wrong (fala was wrongly pronounced). Watch this talk to know what I am talking about: अरबी-फ़ारसी मुक्त हिन्दी: बाज़ारू खिचड़ी से आर्यभाषा तक| नित्यानन्द मिश्र | Arabic-Persian Free Hindi
- Naive Plot: While I mentioned that direction and screenplay was excellent in this series, the plot for me was hit and miss. Like many other movies, computer experts were hacking into everything too easily. That was passable. But most of the plans of Asur were based on many ifs and buts. Although, when you think about it, a lot can be explained by the fact that there were many Asurs and they would have come to the help of other Asurs in case of failure of their plan. The supposedly smart officers of CBI were naive and stupid in their investigations as well. Also, both DJ and Nikhil were talking to different Asurs in the end, yet only one was caught. Why did they not go after Farook? The decision of Nikhil to sacrifice his daughter also didn’t feel right. After spending so much time with an Asur, he still was outdone and had to lose his daughter. The ending was somewhat unsatisfied. It was satisfactory for Asur. And that probably was the intention of the writers and directors. Again my complaint goes back to the lack of an intellectually capable character to counter Asur. This for me was the biggest missed opportunity of the show.
Overall, this series was a good watch as a thriller but lacked the intellectual depth, that I hoped for when I read such rave reviews. Maybe I am expecting too much from an intellectually paralysed industry. But at least the writers and directors tried and did justice to the best of their understanding and knowledge. Understanding Sanatana Shastras is no easy task and I am still waiting after Ramanand Sagar and B R Chopra to deliver a show capable of grasping the essence of our great Shastras. This sadly is not that show.