A crime thriller is often linked to personal revenge leading to a strong, psychological focus to avenge some wrong, real or imagined, perpetrated on the killer or someone close to him. ‘Murder in Mahim’ is underwritten with a powerful social agenda which gets repeated through the film

The string of murders does not overshadow or swallow the social message the web series carries across convincingly. This forms the USP of this action-centric web series which was released on Jio on May 10, and is also streaming on Disney Hotstar.

The series sets the mood with ‘Drop Section 377’ placards, and loud slogans by a young crowd in the opening title montage, used as a repeated visual and audio image in the film till the end. This underscores the series' commitment to addressing social issues, focused on the decriminalisation of homosexuality in India.

It is done in good taste, though the string of murders are too brutally cinematographed, perhaps deliberately, to stress the inhumanity with which the mainstream treats the LGBTQ+ community.

To the shock of retired criminal journalist Peter Fernandes (Ashutosh Rana) and his wife Millie (Divya Jagdale) they see their young son Sunil Fernandes (Rohit Verma) on the televised news among the protestors. For the first time in their lives, the parents learn that Sunil, a bright scholar pursuing his Ph.D. is also a gay activist.

Is he really gay? He remains away from his parents for some days, filling them with the suspense of whether he is guilty of the intriguing murder, and more importantly, whether he is gay.

This long story of typical parents reacting with shock, is punctuated with one murder after another. It starts with the brutal murder of a young man named “Proxy” inside the male toilet of Mahim Railway Station.

Proxy was the leader of a gang of gay men involved in criminal activities including prostitution. His murder sets off a series of killings inside the same male toilet, often of gay clients who had come to be with the sex workers, or of policemen they hold responsible for their wrongful humiliation.

On the legal side, we are introduced to Shivajirao Jende (Vijay Raaz) who is the most honest and forthright police officer in charge of solving the killings alongwith his efficient assistant Firdaus Rabbani (Shivani Raghuvanshi). She is the only woman in a police station manned and dominated by men, most of them corrupt to the core who knew what was going on in the men’s toilet at Mahim Railway station, but are quite happy with their heavy pockets and exploiting some of the sex workers.

We are given brief but significant insights into the private lives of Fernandes and his wife, the estranged bonding and working relationship of Fernandes and Jende. Alongside, the audience peeks into the personal lives of Jende, his two colleagues and Rabbani too, each done with emotion without overdoing the drama.

Shivaji Satam as Jende’s corrupt father suspended from service through investigations by Fernandes adds to the terribly cruel behaviour of his honest son towards his corrupt father. The relationship smoothes out in the end, with Jende questioning himself about whether his honesty is better than his father’s corruption, when he finds he just cannot solve the series of murders.

Is this because he begins to empathise with the cause of the marginalised? Or, is it because the murders are truly quite difficult to solve even by a hardcore police investigator like himself?

Since Fernandes finds that his son is also a suspect, he smooths the fractures that happened between his once-close friend and himself. But while Fernandes is quite forthcoming, Jende is still bitter because he holds his father’s suspension against Fermandes’ investigative story that revealed the corruption. The reunion between friends takes place on the beaches of Dadar Chowpatty one evening, a touching scene of camaraderie and warm friendship.

The web series is based on a best-selling novel by Jerry Pinto and is filled with breathtaking suspense and endless questioning around who is committing the killings, the victims including a policeman and the son of another policeman. Every police staff is on tenterhooks fearing he may be the next victim as the killer leaves a strange signature on every victim before he leaves.

The physical ambience created through the film is done well, with the camera returning again and again to Mahim Railway station late into the night, with the red light in the luminous clock announcing the time, and the changes in the lighting of the shots depending on the location carries the ‘mood’ and ‘feel’ of the different locales the film moves across.

The public address system announcing arrivals and departures of local trains, followed by the slightly upper middle-class set up where the Fernandes’ live, the very middle-class quarters of the policemen including Jende whose father, fed up of being ridiculed and harassed by his son, takes up the job of a security guard in a gated housing complex nearby.

He is now a scrupulously honest watchman. These are conceived with imagination and also to keep touch with reality. These add a dimension to the goings on.

The story keeps shifting base from scene to scene, from one character to the next, inside the prison cell, inside the homes of the police officers, Fernandes’ home with a chapel included and the detailed locations the film moves across.

Rabbani’s home reflects the ambience of a Muslim middle-class home where she is punished by her shocked parents when they discover that she is lesbian. Though a superior police officer, Jende’s boss, asks her to put in her papers, Jende comes to her defence and tells his biassed boss that what she does in her private life is her business.

The music is good but could have been a bit low-key just to underline the mood of the film and not as entertainment. The editing is razor sharp and slow alternately, melding into the lightning changes in the mood of the film.

The focus on the protesting crowds outside the police station is edited well. Rabbani at one moment, lifts the bar dividing the police from the protestors by joining them proudly, ignoring the very angry stares of the big boss.

What holds the film together are the well-rounded characterisations including that of the killer. These are enhanced by the picture-perfect performances of Ashutosh Rana as the distraught father Fernandes, who learns to accept his son’s personal choice with warmth and understanding, Vijay Raaz as Jende, Shivani Raghuvanshi as Rabbani, Shivaji Satam as Jende’s adorable father and last but never the least, the murderer who explains without either apology or guilt, why he has avenged his mentor’s brutal murder.

Rajesh Khattar portrays an openly gay man rejected by family and friends who tries to help Fernandes quite naturally.

The series repeatedly points out that some gay men get into prostitution because there is absolutely no job within the organised labour market. Many have been thrown out of their families with very few friends only within their community and left alone to live or die equally humiliating lives and deaths.

One of them says he had come to make it in films but was repeatedly raped by the people who promised him roles which never happened. He had become a sex worker servicing customers in the male toilet in Mahim Station.

The narrative travels to Dadar Chowpatty at certain points, underlining how this beautiful beach has become a ‘prostitutes’ den; after nightfall, followed by the family sequences of the policemen concerned. and last but never the least, the touching scene between Jende and his old father and the warming up and acceptance of the Fernandes couple of their son’s alternate preferences.

A good series, directed by Raj Acharya which could have served us better had it cut out some of the riff-raff like Rabbani’s tragic affair with a girl followed by the ‘girl-seeing’ scenes, or, the modelling aspirant in whose home Fernandes barges in to try and solve the murders, and a bit of cutting down of the terrible torture of trial convicts by the police.

Watch ‘Murder in Mahim’. Those who have lived in Dadar or Mahim, will find themselves taking a trip through nostalgia, like this writer.