Sometimes, you just can’t help cheering for the bad guy. Even when he’s a buffoon of a wannabe gangster boss, a small fry who thinks he’s a big shot, a school bully – literally, because he’s still a student – and a woeful would-be womaniser.
Step forward Munna Tripathi, played by Divyendu Sharma, in original Indian series Mirzapur, widely touted as Amazon Prime Video’s answer to police-and-thieves drama Sacred Games on Netflix. And while creators Karan Anshuman and Puneet Krishna might not have intended to achieve such comedic value in Munna, his tomfoolery inadvertently helps the medicine of violent crime, casual brutality, extortion and intimidation go down.
This is an Indian Godfather saga, starring three generations of the Tripathi family and their fiefdom, the town of Mirzapur (featuring, with Varanasi, in location shoots). Guns and drugs are trafficked via the town’s major export, its elaborately woven carpets, with the whole nefarious empire overseen by don Kaleen Tripathi (Pankaj Tripathi), the devious, business-oriented son of the ailing family head.
But there’s a succession approaching and Munna is determined to be the king of crime, not a mere prince. The trouble is, Munna, while childishly seeking his father Kaleen’s approval, will reliably do the wrong thing – shoot dead a groom at his wedding; screech around in a jeep and terrorise neighbourhoods; succumb to his drug habit and lie to his father to disguise it – and generally bring disgrace to even this family of mobsters, who pretend to good manners, taste, convivial dinners and taking care of their own.
Into the convolutions of this sometimes narratively clunky nine-part first series, available now in its entirety of roughly 45-minute instalments, stumble Bablu Pandit (Vikrant Massey) and his hulk of a brother, Guddu (Ali Fazal), sons of an upstanding lawyer primed for courtroom battle against the Tripathis. The siblings become the new respective brains and brawn of Kaleen’s Mirzapur mafia – much to Munna’s displeasure.
On the outside, meanwhile, but increasingly looking in, is a spirited sisterhood led by film and television stalwarts Sheeba Chaddha, Harshita Gaur and Shriya Pilgaonkar, who often prove wise where their men are foolish.
And eventually, riding into town to take charge, comes incorruptible cop Maurya Sahab (Amit Sial). Will he find that blood is thicker than drugs? Are turf wars the town’s future? Will the often oddly quaint cinematography of Mirzapur make him look like he’s in a soap opera? Will he staunch the blood and oozing innards, blunt the knives and swords and melt the guns that make the show look like an offshore commercial for the National Rifle Association?
Netflix explains the popularity of K-pop, and other head-scratching phenomena
And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for! The answer, at last, to that supremely vexatious question: why is K-pop so popular?
Song-and-dance videos on sets so garish they must have escaped from Johnny Depp’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; lyrics so squeakily bland they could be civil servants; melodies so unthreatening they could join the United Nations: K-pop has overcome all these handicaps to surf a wave of cultural influence that has done more to promote Seoul and beyond than any number of LG washing machines.
Finding said answer, plus many more in a sort of “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know for Dummies” catalogue, is easy with documentary series Explained (Netflix), covering 20 subjects, each allotted about 20 minutes.
Alien life, cryptocurrency, dieting, financial discrimination, the exclamation mark! Yes, even cricket (“coded and peculiar”, says Stephen Fry) – they’re all here, their bubbles of mystery popped. And that ultimate, K-pop answer? Well: you’ll have to watch to find out, all you BTS and Seo Taiji and Boys fans.