London Files – the Arjun Rampal-led series, now streaming on Voot Select – is a hilariously bad police show. I can’t get around it, so I might as well acknowledge that right away. Rampal’s detective is stuck in the TV, but he doesn’t know it. After all, that’s the only way to explain his mind-boggling actions, things no cop in his position would do. At one point, while Rampal is tracking a suspect, he calls out their names and gives himself up just because London Files needs an episodic cliffhanger. When his big case is wrapped up midway through the six-episode run, Rampal argues that the case isn’t over — not based on any tangible evidence — simply because there are three episodes left.
Elsewhere during his investigation, Rampal comes across some old family items in their abandoned apartment that are inexplicably related to his current case, leaving him with new clues by sheer luck. Trying to tell the audience that he’s a good detective actually works against your argument. And in what is London Files’ only action, Rampal takes on four cops with guns at close range in the most inconclusive way. But Rampal is not the only one who is bad at his job. Towards the end of the new Voot series, although our police protagonist was previously labeled a villain, a high-ranking minister reinstates him and allows him to work solo unsupervised.
But such senseless decisions are part of the London Files course. The original Voot series – directed by Sachin Pathak (Kathmandu Connection) and written by Prateek Payodhi (Grahan) – spins an unnecessarily complicated story involving cults, narcotics, poisonings, media moguls, brainwashed immigrants, and a laughable broad conspiracy. At times it feels partially inspired by Sacred Games season 2. Both shows have a guru-esque figure pushing for change through violence and a deranged detective who believes the matter is in his hands alone. It’s weird that the makers of London Files would watch a Netflix show that took on too much of itself in the second season and went off the rails.
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Of course, the Voot series is a lot looser. Through all of those elements mentioned earlier, London Files tries to paint a story about xenophobia, class differences and the ripping off of privileged people. But at one point it actually mocks the #MeToo movement, which is a really weird level because it makes you feel like the writer is using the series as a vendetta against an individual. What makes it even weirder is that London Files briefly hints late in the season that it wants to discuss toxic masculinity, and how it manifests itself in dads raising their boys. These disparate ideas are bundled together in six half-hour episodes – but it’s not just a runtime problem, the poor handling of each theme shows the lack of care.
In the end, it’s all just material to use as plot fodder for a detective story that lacks momentum or has no idea what it’s trying to do. Yet nothing can prepare you for the terrible, terrible end. Not only is it poorly written, staged and acted, the series finale is a betrayal of London Files’ tonal approach up to that point. The forced optimism of the finale – topped with a tacky and tearful positive song – pushed me to the limit. It’s not in keeping with the gloom and darkness of the show’s universe. And out of nowhere, every character who suffered before begins to smile. What is going on?! I was left completely stunned and in turn convinced that London Files is one of the worst things the world of Indian OTT has produced to date.
Two years after his teenage son is involved in a horrific incident, divorced Om Singh (Arjun Rampal) lives alone in a London council flat. Still, he somehow kept his job with the Met’s Homicide and Major Crimes Department, under DCS Ranjh Randhawa (Sagar Aarya), who graduated from the police academy with Om decades ago. After Maya Roy (Medha Rana), the daughter of media mogul and anti-immigration lawyer Amar Roy (Purab Kohli), goes missing, Om is called in to investigate. Wait, why is Major Crimes investigating a missing person case, you ask? Well, because Amar is a big man. Om and Amar don’t get along, which is not good for the detective because a) Amar is an important man, and b) Om’s image in the media is already at an all-time low due to that mysterious past.
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That backstory, along with the Roy family’s lives, is fleshed out in parallel with Om’s investigation of Amar’s activities, which involves London Files moving in a non-linear fashion. The former is more teased – just in comparison – than the mundane handling of the mystery of the missing girl. Feeling that he has abandoned his son and his family, Om is deeply ashamed of being shunned by everyone he knew outside of work. But the Voot series stumbles upon itself in an attempt to connect the story of Om’s troubled son with Amar’s missing daughter. It’s a problem of its own after all, because London Files wants to be about a million little things, but doesn’t have the insight or the ability to handle even one of them properly.
But it is not Payodhi who fails, but everyone who comes after. That is only natural with a hollow surface. As Om, Rampal seems crazy and unbelievable. Much of it is because Payodhi’s script and Pathak’s push towards him in illogical ways. Kohli is billed third, but his Amar disappears halfway through London Files. It’s almost as if Kohli has been hired for a few days, because he lives in London. And then there’s Gopal Dutt – billed second – who has been cast against type as a self-serious villain. I’m all for the idea, but it’s a failure on all fronts. However, the most artificial aspect of London Files is the English voiceovers – it’s like they were conceived during post-production, and the collective budget for them was loose change – who are up there with the finale being the worst of the show.
Warning: Spoilers ahead for London Files. Turn around now, unless you don’t care.
Speaking of which, it’s almost impressive how London Files implodes in its latest episode. The villain’s grand plan is to threaten to blow up a building unless the government repeals an anti-immigration law. It’s as high as the stakes have been all season, but the creators don’t understand what makes a thriller. Because in the thick of a hostage situation, London Files makes time for Om and Maya to have heart to heart. While the villain’s brainwashed minions just stand and watch. It reminded me of 80s Bollywood movies where tearful family members reconciled in the most melodramatic fashion. What follows is one of the most horrific montages ever seen on screen, and succinct proof that Indian originals from the likes of Voot are not far from the endless soap operas that play out on cable TV.
London Files will be released on Thursday, April 21 at noon IST on Voot Select, the premium subscription tier of the OTT service Voot.