Disney+Hotstar’s Sultan of Delhi Review: In the era of web series, where content creators are exploring fresh narratives and innovative storytelling, there's a saturation point for predictable plots, unnecessary sensationalism, and fascination with gangster dramas. Milan Luthria, known for directing potent films like "Once Upon a Time in Mumbai," raised expectations with "Sultan of Delhi," a series based on Arnab Ray's book. However, this ambitious project falls short of delivering a gripping narrative, relying heavily on style over substance. Even the charismatic Tahir Raj Bhasin can't salvage this muddled storytelling.
Cast: Tahir Raj Bhasin, Anjum Sharma, Vinay Pathak, Mouni Roy, Harleen Sethi, Anupriya Goenka, Mehreen Pirzada, and Nishant Dahiya
Director: Milan Luthria
"Sultan of Delhi," co-directed by Milan Luthria and Suparn S. Verma, initially teases viewers with the promise of an engaging storyline. The series begins with the young Arjun (Ricky Patel), who survives the brutal Partition massacre with his father (Bijay Anand) and lands in Delhi. However, what follows is a decade that seems to pass in the blink of an eye, offering a superficial glance at Arjun's journey of survival and transformation into a car mechanic. Tahir Raj Bhasin takes the stage as the grown-up Arjun, but the story's development leaves much to be desired.
The plot takes a turn as Arjun becomes associated with Jagan Seth (Vinay Pathak) and begins his journey to become a powerful leader. However, the reasons behind his actions, including an absurd illegal ammunition trade that results in needless police deaths, remain unexplained. The lack of depth in character motivations and a penchant for glossing over significant narrative elements is a recurring issue.
Arjun's adversary, Rajinder Pratap Singh (Nishant Dahiya), comes across as an aristocratic brat with unresolved daddy issues. He is supported by Shankari (Anupriya Goenka), a manipulative character who seems hastily written. Dressed in bizarre, revealing outfits, she remains an enigmatic character in a series more interested in style than substance.
"Sultan of Delhi" introduces Mouni Roy as a cabaret dancer, featuring a wholly unnecessary number in the middle of the series. This leads to a ridiculous bank robbery scene, further emphasizing the show's detachment from meaningful storytelling. At times, the series exhibits an exasperating sense of time and politics, perpetuating stereotypes to drive the plot. The character of filmmaker Roy Babu, whose activism involves bank heists labeled as rebellion, is a prime example of this.
Tahir Raj Bhasin's talent is underutilized in a narrative that fails to provide room for character development amidst its uninspiring storyline. Each character remains confined to broad, stereotypical roles, devoid of depth. The lack of investment in the settings and characters makes it challenging to engage with the series over its nine episodes. The disappointing adaptation attempts to redeem itself but falls short in its underwhelming conclusion.
"Sultan of Delhi" is a period crime drama set in the tumultuous post-Partition era. While it aims for grandeur in its portrayal of loyalty, ambition, and treachery in free India's early years, the execution falls short. The series trudges through gunfights, bromance, and an abundance of toxic masculinity but struggles to create authentic settings and a convincing portrayal of the period.
The show's portrayal of Delhi, Calcutta, and the political activism of the 1960s lacks authenticity. The characters live in sprawling mansions that feel detached from reality, and the depiction of these cities barely resembles their historical counterparts. The narrative often fails to explore the rich layers of the source material, resulting in a vacant storyline.