If you ask any Indian about their favorite movies or shows in the horror genre, you’ll usually find them reminiscing about the days “Ssshh…Koi Hai” and “Aahat” used to air on the television. Thanks to Letterboxd’s “Bollywood Horror Collection” and Prime Video’s “Cinema Marte Dum Tak,” you may come across a lot of people fondly remembering the work done by the Ramsay brothers. “Manichitrathazhu” continues to be one of the most rewatchable horror films in Indian film history. And, most recently, “Tumbbad” has managed to surpass international standards and carve its own place in the pantheon of great horror films. But if you look at everything that surrounds it, there’s a chasm in terms of quality, especially due to the consistently weak attempts at horror comedy. Naturally, expectations for “Tooth Pari” were low. However, after watching all eight episodes of the Netflix series, I can say that it’s one of the best Indian horror comedies.
The world of “Tooth Pari” is centered around the city of joy, Kolkata. Its population is broadly divided into three sects: vampires, witches, and humans. Due to an ancient pact with humans, vampires live underground, where they get a regular supply of blood pouches from a hospital aptly named “Mritunjoy” (the conqueror of death). The vampires’ official leader is Ora, but they are controlled by a human named AD, who obviously wears a silver shawl to repel the vampires. But there’s a group of rebels called “Baaghinis” (tigresses), led by Rumi, who often go out at night to feed on humans.
The only rules that the vampires have to follow are, they can’t kill humans or convert them. They can only drink a little and ensure that their venom puts humans in a state of hypnosis that causes their memories to disappear. Due to a feeding session gone wrong, Rumi loses one of her fangs. To get it fixed, she goes to the dentist, Dr. Roy, and they fall in love. As their romance blooms, a down-on-his-luck policeman, Kartik Pal, stumbles upon the world of vampires. And when the leader of the Cutmundus (the coven that practices witchcraft, whose name is a play on the city of Kathmandu as well as the act of beheading vampires), Luna Luka, learns that the vampires have breached their pact, all hell breaks loose.
Although all that sounds deathly serious, Pratim D. Gupta’s writing has a good balance between comedy, worldbuilding, and social commentary. He cheekily plays with history and mythology by hinting that all of it has been influenced by his vampires in one way or another. In a scene between Roy’s mother and Meera (a vampire pretending to be Rumi’s mother), he comments on how parents in the 21st century still believe in regressive practices like preserving one’s virginity before marriage. The contrast between Roy’s lack of romantic experience and Rumi’s years of romantic experience is cute and interesting, as both of them are searching for a wholesome partner but for entirely different reasons.
Kartik oscillating between his need for redemption and his inability to comprehend the supernatural stuff that’s unfolding before his eyes is tragically hilarious. Add to that the nuanced and personal motivations behind AD and Luna’s antagonism, and you’ve got the most important ingredient that’s needed for a good story, i.e., conflict. The only problem is that all of this is spread across 8 episodes. Therefore, there are moments where the characters seem to be going in circles, both emotionally and in terms of plot progression. And that dulls the overall impact of the show.
Thankfully, Gupta makes up for the erratic writing with the visuals. One of the entry points is a combination lock kind of thing that’s carved into the stone, and the other one is a pillar in the Maidan stoppage of the Kolkata Metro system. The bars, the coffins (where the vampires sleep), the lounge areas, and the gaming arenas are a mix of retro, gothic, and futuristic. “John Wick” has proven that anything can be made to feel pulpy with neon or candle lights and EDM. Production designer Saini S. Johray, cinematographer Subhankar Bhar, and composer Neel Adhikari seem to have cemented that theory now.
Costume designers Jia Bhagia and Mallika Chauhan have done a great job fleshing out the styles followed by humans, witches, and vampires. When the narrative has to step out of the shadows, Gupta and his team ensure that the audience always feels like they are in Kolkata. They achieve that effect by not only highlighting some of the most recognizable monuments, but also by using the uniquely Bengali interiors of an office, the streets of a neighborhood, and the constant “Kal Boishakhi” as the backdrops for every other scene. And, of course, big props to editor Antara Lahiri for bringing together all these elements in a cohesive fashion.
If we are being honest, though, the crown jewels of the show are its cast. Tanya Maniktala is so effortlessly charming that she can make you swoon with the flick of her eyelashes. When she has to dig deep into Rumi’s painful past, she does it so delicately. Shantanu Maheshwari plays the introverted Roy without making him caricaturish. His chemistry with Maniktala is so organic that I could’ve watched them romance each other for eight episodes and not even wonder why nothing else is happening. Rajatabha Dutta and Swaroopa Ghosh, channeling every Bengali parent, are quite funny. Adil Hussain and Revathi’s wigs are a travesty. But they’re clearly having so much fun playing with these characters that I can’t really complain.
Sikandar Kher is simply excellent. He had me in splits by saying things like “Chamchike” (bats) and “Dant Ujala” (since he thinks a dentist isn’t actually a doctor). But that didn’t stop him from portraying Kartik’s vulnerable side, especially when he’s with his father, played really well by Anjan Dutt. Tilottama Shome and Saswata Chatterjee largely stay on the sidelines. That said, when they shine, they shine really bright. Anirban Chakrabarti, who is famous for playing Eken Babu, is good in his extended cameo. Kharaj Mukherjee appears as an irresponsible coroner, and his scenes with Sikandar are great. Barun Chanda is regal as usual. So is Avijit Dutt. Zarina Wahab and Anindita Bose are criminally underused. However, the most underrated actor here is Chitrak Bandyopadhyay, who steals every scene he’s in. I’ll be quoting his “ode baba” forever.
For the past few weeks, months, or maybe years, I’ve been complaining about how I’ve fallen out of love with shows because nobody is doing serialized storytelling properly. Today’s ordeal hasn’t entirely changed my stance. But the sight of Roy and Rumi meeting each other at the end of “Tooth Pari” Season 1 made me think that I can watch a few more seasons of these two lovebirds defying every rule written by vampires, humans, and witches so that they can stay together. And, in my opinion, that’s a win for Pratim D. Gupta and the teams of artists that have worked with him to bring this story to our small screens. Nowadays, the future of a show depends on how much it has been viewed within a span of 24 or 48 hours. So, it’s up to Netflix and its audience to greenlight the next season. That said, if it does happen, I just want Gupta and whoever else is going to be on the writing team to use every second of its running time to progress the story instead of padding it for some stupid reason. Also, the action needs to improve a lot. With all that said, please watch “Tooth Pari” Season 1, form your own opinion, and let us know what you think about it.