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Does ‘Breathe Into The Shadows’, New Psychological Thriller On Prime, Deliver On Its Promise?

Posted: July 13, 2020

Poorly researched and written, and using tired tropes, Abhishek Bachchan’s new thriller on Amazon Prime turns out to be a disappointment.

Right at the beginning of Breathe: Into the Shadows, a medical student, Gayatri (Resham Shrivardhan), is abducted by a mysterious man. I groaned inwardly, because it looked like it would be yet another series about young women getting kidnapped and raped. Which is why it was a pleasant surprise to find out that the young woman has been abducted for her skills as a doctor –she has to take care of a little girl, Siya (Ivana Kaur), who has been abducted by the same man, and who suffers from Type 1 diabetes and therefore requires insulin injections.

Siya is the daughter of psychiatrist Avinash Sabharwal (Abhishek Bachchan), and chef Abha Sabharwal (Nitya Menen). The price for her return is that Avinash murders ten other people, chosen by the kidnapper. Each murder is linked to a particular emotion, anger, lust, fear etc. (with each emotion representing one of Ravan’s ten heads). Avinash has to evoke said emotion in the target, before killing them.

Meanwhile, a troubled but genius cop, Kabir Sawant (Amit Sadh) is on the case, and so it becomes a cat and mouse game, as Avinash has to avoid being caught, even as he goes on a murder spree to save his daughter.

Sounds riveting? It could have been!

Unfortunately, the show disappoints. There are weirdly placed flashbacks, crater sized plot holes, and sub plots that don’t go anywhere. Another problem is that the writing is lazy and the research is half baked.

Mental health issue acknowledged but vilified

The kidnapper has a mental health disorder. Naming it would be a huge spoiler, so I won’t. I will say though, that it is one that too many movies/books etc. use as a convenient ‘twist.’ So, it becomes yet another case of a person with a mental health issue being used as the ‘villain.’ Which is a shame, because the show initially tries to build empathy for the character.

It acknowledges that it is a mental health issue, and not a case of ‘supernatural possession’, and speaks about the stigma associated with therapy. Therapy sessions are well represented. Unfortunately, the therapist also recommends that therapy be put on hold for the most unconvincing reason, at a point where the character needs more, not less therapy.

The knowledge of the disorder itself also seems to be borrowed from thrillers rather than from professionals, and retrofitted to serve the show, so inconsistencies crop up.

Did the writers do any research on sexual orientation at all?

Another thorn in my side is the way a queer woman has been represented on the show. Her exact orientation is never defined, though she is shown having sexual attraction towards a boy as a teenager, and is in a relationship with a woman as an adult (the show doesn’t even refer to her as bisexual, it simply says she is ‘gay.’) Each of the letters in LGBTQIA+ stands for distinct identities, and there is a reason for that –it feels like the writers haven’t understood this basic fact.

She is also associated with the emotion of ‘lust.’ In a country where homosexuality still does not have social acceptance, and where LGBTQIA+ people are already perceived as sexual deviants and perverts, this is problematic. When you think about it, there is no good reason for this character to be queer, except that the makers probably wanted some titillating scenes of women getting hot and heavy with each other.

And of course, she gets killed, because queer people in pop culture are dispensable. So frustrating, I want to scream!

Disabled people need not be an ‘inspiration’ all the time!

Most TV shows and books swing between two stereotypical representations of physically disabled people. They are either wallowing in misery, or they are ‘inspirational’ champions who are the epitome of happiness. The show chooses the latter.

Plabita Borthakur, plays Meghna, a recovered drug addict, who is a sponsor for the twelve step Narcotics Anonymous programme. She is also a physically disabled woman who needs to use a wheelchair to get around. She is shown as this constantly happy, completely uncomplaining young woman. She has no mixed feelings for the man who according to the show’s timeline, just six months ago, pushed her off a building (to ostensibly save her life) and caused her disability. She instantly forgives him and goes on to become a sort of emotional mentor to him (because the point of the existence of women is to heal broken men, no?).

She also says stuff like, “I had a choice between being a survivor or being a victim. I chose to be a survivor.” Sigh. If only it was that easy.

The truth is people (all people, not just disabled people), have an emotional range. Even basically happy people have bad days. No one is happy all the time. And like everyone else, disabled people have a right to a perfectly ordinary life. They should not have to be ‘happy’ or ‘inspirational’ to be likeable. They should not have to perform the emotional labour required to make others feel ‘okay’ about their disability.

I could go on and on about the other problematic elements of the show. Like the fact that apart from Nithya Menen, the other women on the show don’t really have a purpose for existing (why is Saiyami Kher wasted on a one-note role that only exists to further the male protagonist’s story?); or the stereotypical portrayal of an ambitious woman as being manipulative; or the excessive and glorified violence, especially violence perpetuated by the police.

Lazy writing and plot holes doom the Abhishek Bachchan and Nitya Menen starrer, Breathe:Into the Shadows, making it a disappointing watch.

Ultimately, needing to know what happens to the young woman and the little girl, is all that kept me watching. Ivana Kaur is such a delight as Siya, and the character of Gayatri is well written. It also helps that their rescuer is another woman –for a change!

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