The Jengaburu Curse review: Noble intentions cannot save this rushed drama

Aug 09, 2023 01:37 PM IST

The Jengaburu Curse review: Helmed by Nila Madhav Panda, the series details tribal displacement and institutional corruption with the design of a thriller.

Writer-director Nila Madhab Panda's The Jengaburu Curse is touted as India's first cli-fi series. Inspired by climate science and dealing with the grave issue of climate change, it has to master that balance of earnestness in storytelling with a focused and clear message. Even as The Jengaburu Curse remains steadfast in its intent--there are thematic concerns that emerge out of its loose end-- and the more it tries to piece together an urgent, seething tale of the unhealthy relationship between nature and humans, the more it breaks loose. (Also read: Nila Madhab Panda returns with The Jengaburu Curse, asks ‘dusre kyu nhi banate’ such films, shows)

The Jengaburu Curse is available to stream on SonyLiv.
The Jengaburu Curse is available to stream on SonyLiv.

The premise

Divided into seven episodes, The Jengaburu Curse starts off when London-based financial analyst Priya Das (Faria Abdullah) gets a call from social worker Mr Rao (Nassar) that her father is missing for a few days and she needs to fly down to her hometown in Odisha to identify a dead body. Priya returns immediately, and finds herself in the pursuit of her missing father- long-time activist Swatantra Das. But the truth is far more shocking and complex, woven around illegal mining and displacement of the local 'Gondria' tribe for an illegal mining network. Dhruv (Sudev Nair), who is a thoughtful IAS officer, helps in finding her way through the network of events. There is also Makarand Deshpande, who plays a local doctor, and together with his wife, secretly helps in keeping the tribal movement aware and alive. With their help, Priya carries on her own search, which is underlined with intermittent tragedy and violence.

What does not work

As aware and noble the intentions might be, The Jengaburu Curse falls flat due to its restless and frequently tepid storytelling. The exposition of almost all the characters occur through dialogues, as if the makers were sufficiently trying to hurry up towards the revelations at work. One example of this would be an unintentionally hilarious scene where Dhruv tells Priya, “You went to London School of Economics and became a gold medallist without tuition and support, you are great." The framework of Panda's storytelling is constantly muddled with twists, so much that it deters the attention of the viewer into a completely different dilemma, time and again. The loose ends pile up. The scenes are hurriedly staged and poorly performed. One sequence where a key character is shot in a river in the jungle, is depicted with the water turning red in a few seconds and the police then staging a different angle to the story for a cover up. Abdullah remains determined to emote only through one expression here- there's no shock, or frustration or anger that creeps in.

Lack of perspective

Furthermore, the central thematic concern here is the lack of perspective. If The Jengaburu Curse is really interested in telling the story of the displacement of The Gondria Tribe, then where is the politics of their point of view? Where are their histories and realities? Who are these people, what do they want to say? The show is only interested in 'telling' about them: how they are being displaced, how they are now living in the jungle, and how they might be surviving. They are treated as supporting characters hiding in the jungles, and ready to take down the system. No foresight is allowed to enter the socio-economic crisis that these communities are dealing with. The Jengaburu Curse is much more interested in revealing and hiding, playing a game of deceit. It hammers along so much that by the time the denouement arrives, it no longer matters where the secret lab is, what are the reasons, and who are the dealers connected with the entire illegal mining.

The Jengaburu Curse remains ambitious in intent, but decidedly safe and hurried in design. Even the end hook feels unnecessary. The lack of curiosity is succeeded with a preface of suspense like a glossy cover to fold over the poor exposition and lack of perspective. Unfortunately, intent is not enough to make a story like this work. It only turns into a curse.

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