Shiksha Mandal is the third show in recent times to be inspired by the infamous Vyapam education scam that took India by storm a few years ago. The sad part is that these series seem to be getting progressively worse and Shiksha Mandal has managed to touch a new low. Despite the presence of some amazing actors, a strong basic premise, and the twists-and-turns of a thriller, the MX Player show remains unenjoyable and often feels like a bad parody of the shows that preceded it. Also read: The Whistleblower review: Bad writing spoils Vyapam scam-based SonyLIV series
Shiksha Mandal, set in present day Madhya Pradesh, follows Aditya’s (an in form Gulshan Devaiah), who runs a coaching institute in Bhopal, frenetic search for his missing sister, who seems to be connected to the examination scam. Aiding him is the Special Task Force officer Anuradha (Gauahar Khan) and her team. But standing in their way is a nexus of interconnected criminals and politicians, led by the ferocious Dhansu Yadav (Pavan Malhotra). The plot is the highlight of the show. The first episode sets up great promise and sadly, it only goes downhill from there.
The trouble with Shiksha Mandal is that it lacks subtlety and finesse. It tries to force everything with the gentleness of a jackhammer. The writing is so unimaginative and bland that several characters are reduced to repeating the same lines episode after episode, turning them into caricatures. Because of this, well-meaning cops come across as incompetent and vulnerable victims as rather stupid. That is a great disservice to the characters and the actors playing them.
And whenever the show tries to be funky, it ends up being comically crass. Sample this, a major antagonist is a bling-wearing gangster with a rather noticeable lisp who loves talking in English. All of this screams stereotypes. To use a lisp or bad English as a source of humour is a trope that has no place in 2022. Add to it other stereotypical characters and suddenly the cast begins to resemble a motley of comic relief characters from bad 90s’ films. And then there is a ‘Ross-Rachel we were on a break’ moment between the lead pair that, yet again, is so 90s.
The actors try their level best to redeem the show with whatever they have been given. Pavan Malhotra, as always, is sublime. He looks menacing and engaging at the same time, managing to not just nail the MP dialect but also make Dhansu Yadav different from the several similar characters we have seen on OTT before. Gulshan Devaiah is in fine form this year and he carries his good streak here, breathing life into the scenes he is in. Gauahar Khan, too, shows just how much she has matured and grown as an actor, pulling off the idealistic cop seamlessly. Wish I had good things to say about the competent support cast but they have been given so less to work with, that they can hardly bring anything to the table.
Shiksha Mandal takes a promising premise and a strong cast and goes on to make the worst possible choices in narration with all that in hand. The tacky tone, the bizarre background score, and a very archaic way of looking at thrillers makes this one of the most predictable and dull watch in recent times. Shiksha Mandal fails the crucial exam of quality storytelling despite being handed all the resources to prepare well.
The sad part is that it’s not even that bad that one can cringewatch it. It stops just short of that. Watch it only if you have too much time and for some exemplary performances from Pavan and Gulshan yet again. The show begins streaming on MXPlayer from September 15.
Series: Shiksha Mandal
Director: Syed Ahmad Afzal
Cast: Gulshan Devaiah, Gauahar Khan, Pavan Malhotra, Rajendra Sethi, Iram Badar Khan, Shivaani Singh, Jaihind Kumar.
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