Disney plus Hotstar’s latest series, Karmma Calling, is the official adaptation of the 2011 American series Revenge. In its time, Revenge was a fun, juicy guilty pleasure, which I remember devouring during exam season. Dare I say it, this is a really solid show to adapt for Indian audiences. It’s a show that perfectly lends itself to our melodramatic mainstream sensibility, set in the soulless, self-serving world of the rich and obnoxious elite.
It has everything you could ask for – a fiery revenge saga that’s high on emotion and entertainment, bitchiness, and backstabbing. It’s a ready-to-go winner that was made for us, and to screw up an adaptation would be pretty difficult. But the makers of this show rise up to the task in all the wrong ways and somehow manage to do just that.
Adapted and directed by Ruchi Narain, Karmma Calling is the latest in a line of pointless, empty Disney plus Hotstar remakes. Why are all bad Disney plus Hotstar shows shabby in the same way? The consistency is pretty remarkable – the same stale, lifeless execution, odd dubbing, dead-in-the-water dialogue, the same Star Plus aesthetic, awkward performances, the surprisingly dull narrative that’s neither sophisticated nor substantial enough to be taken seriously as a streaming series, nor is it pulpy, lovably loud, and unhinged enough to be a memorable Saas-Bahu TV show.
I get that these shows aren’t going for high drama or prestige television; they’re mainly looking to entertain, and I’m all for it. I’d even say we need more shows like it, but even pulp requires craft. There’s a technique to trashy fun and art to excess. For me, Inside Edge still remains the winner in this category with its world of campy cartoons and high-voltage theatrics. But Karmma Calling is seven episodes of bland, banal bitchiness and sloppy scheming.
This flashy, philandering world of rich people all sleeping around or trying to screw each other over, or in some cases even kill each other, is filled with double-crossing, hidden agendas, secret identities, toxic power couples, messy love triangles, and even a possessive psychotic off-the-rails best friend character. And they still somehow managed to make it all dull.
Mysterious newcomer Karma Talvar, played by a woefully miscast Namita Sheath, moves into the neighborhood and thunders into the world of the Alibag elite. Except that Karmma is actually Amika Mea, who grew up there until her father was falsely framed for a massive scam by his closest friends. He spent a life in prison, they got insanely rich after over a decade away, and four years of apparently meticulous planning. Amika has returned, except under the new identity Karma Talvar, to enact her plan of revenge and take down the self-serving asshats who destroyed her life one at a time.
The show follows her bumpy route to revenge while attempting to keep her real identity under wraps. Karma’s arch-nemesis and top of her hit list is ’90s Bollywood queen turned Alibag aristocrat Indrani Kotari, played by a commanding, formidable Rina Tandan, who is the best thing about an otherwise pointless series.
Part of Karma’s plan to get Indrani is to seduce her son Aan, played by a frequently topless Farun. There’s also Indrani’s Instagram influencer daughter played by Dangi Sen, who says things like, ‘It’s not about the vat, Mom; it’s about the gram.’ She’s not consequential to the main plot; I just really wanted to say that.
Among the many, many issues that ensure that this series is dead on arrival is lead Nam Shet in the lead role of Karma Talvar. As we’ve seen in the original with Emily VanCamp’s performance, this is a delicious, fascinating role of a woman who’s relinquished her humanity for her mission. A charming enigma who’s driven, cold, calculating, and seething with rage. But sincere as she is, you get none of that from a lethargic Nam, who was memorable and promising in Amazon Prime Video’s Solely Underrated Guilty Minds. But without solid writing to back her, she’s left flailing and struggles through justice to this heightened melodramatic tone. Even her scowls leave you wanting.
The essence of Revenge was the juicy high-stakes rivalry between the Karma Talwar and Indrani Kotari characters. But here, the power dynamics between her and Indrani, played by Ravina Tandon, are far from equal because Ravina Tandon owns the screen. It’s an enjoyably externalized performance because she knows how to do camp and embrace the extra. When Indrani struts into a room, there’s no question who has the power and presence. You’d absolutely believe that she’s the queen of this place, and hers is the ring you need to kiss to survive. If looks could kill, Indrani’s body count would be through the roof.
Elsewhere, some amidst the wider cast too well to match the heightened pitch and world of the show. A solid Gorov Sharma is Indrani’s husband, Valusha DeSouza as her best friend Dolly, classes Ernest Pushkati, and Rajit Singh as two good-hearted brothers who risk getting swallowed up by the whims of the heartless elite, to name but a few.
Each episode features Karmma destroying the life of another person on her list through convoluted plans that rely heavily on coincidences. But these takedowns are basic, uncreative, and uninteresting. The insipid dialogue and washed-out visuals certainly don’t help. This is just not how you gradually unpeel the layers and structure a mystery thriller. If anything, the only real mystery here lies in figuring out what’s worse – the writing or execution.
In short, anytime anyone on this show isn’t getting blackmailed, backstabbed, or thrown off a balcony, this series is an absolute slog. You can endure Karmma Calling on Disney plus Hotstar.
Hi everyone, it’s Shushant here. What did you guys think of Karmma Calling? Let me know in the comments below. I mean, you don’t have to; it’s up to you. But it would be nice to, you know, maybe discuss it, because this job gets really lonely sometimes. Okay, we’ll see you. I’ll see you next time with the next…what call.”