‘Skyfire’ turns good premise into middling affair

Web Series: “Skyfire” on Zee5; Cast: Prateik Babbar, Sonali Chauhan, Jatin Goswami, Jisshu Sengupta and Shataf Figar; Director: Soumik Sen; Rating: **1/2

It starts with a roar, literally. Unseasonal floods envelope Kerala, as journalist Prateik Babbar, looking distinctly befogged as though caught on the wrong foot (age), almost drowns in the devastation. If he had, we would have been spared the effort of wading through the calamitous climate.

“This is serious,” say the ecological experts who huddle together in an important looking techno-office as though waiting for the cricket scores at the IPL match.

Serious is how novelist Aroon Raman meant to pitch his environmental warning. As directed by Soumik Sen (who last did the underrated “Cheat India”), “Skyfire” comes across as a half-hearted attempt to capture the bite and the warning in the novel.

Firstly, the screenplay compresses all the wrong plot-points, plays up episodes that look dramatic, but also underdeveloped. The Muslim policeman (played rather effectively by Jatin Goswami) has to be honest and duty-bound.

There’s a madman who roams around shooting garbled warnings about The End. But the plundered landscape of which he speaks, seems beyond the imagination (and perhaps budget) of the series’ architects who make do with verbal sinisterness rather than visual evidence of it.

Then, there are the actors. They let down the beleaguered script.

Prateik, who was so striking as a philandering bartender in the other recent series “Four More Shots Please” (don’t blame yourself for not remembering, there are so many of them) looks befogged through the series. If Prateik didn’t get it, neither did we.

The rest of the cast is as disastrous as the climate that the series so ominously speaks about (but never convinces us of the looming danger). Most surprising is the presence of the talented Bengali actor Jisshu Sengupta as an ambivalent politician who gets stabbed in the neck with a broken drinking glass by his secret mistress.

(She probably took the ‘cut glass’ too seriously). Sengupta seems to have forgotten his craft as he does the corrupt neta’s role with as much empathy as a janitor cleaning a public toilet.

The actors are not always to blame. The material here is ambitious, but under-written. Attempts to hold our attention through eight episodes are at best amusing. In one sequence, the arch-villain (Shataf Figar) sits forking and knifing a meal of chicken and stabs a cowering man with his cutlery, sitting at the table with him.

Maybe the chicken was not cooked well. Or maybe he didn’t like the tune that the doomed man was whistling.

Yes, the villain ordered his victim to whistle because he was a whistleblower (get it?).

From Gabbar commanding Basanti to dance, to the villain of this series ordering a whistle, the screen villain has come a long way. So has visual entertainment. Though watching the falling standards of the average web series, I am not very sure if the culture of live streaming is coming or going.

“Skyfire” has an interesting plot. It makes for reasonably interesting viewing in parts, though you may find it hard to sit through all of this futuristic foul-weather fable.

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