Vishal Bhardwaj takes a lighter path with Charlie Chopra & The Mystery of Solang Valley, with a whodunnit that's intriguing yet makes you impatient.
Charulata Chopra (Wamiqa Gabbi), often known as Charlie, travels to her fiancé's hometown after he is accused of murder in order to find out the truth. However, when more and more of the murderer's secrets are revealed, Charlie may be the next victim.
The first episode of Charlie Chopra came out a couple of months ago, setting the premise in the most interesting way. In a cosy house in the middle of Solang Valley, different people come together for a seance hosted by Roy (Naseeruddin Shah). He calls Lady Rose, the woman in the portrait, and with an apparent possession, we get to know Brigadier Meharbaan Singh Rawat (Gulshan Grover) is dead. This comes as a shock to many, as he is the common link among all, but then we see that Jimmy (Vivaan Shah), who was at Rawat's home around the same time, gets accused and arrested on the charges of murder.
Then comes the entry of Charlie Chopra, fiancée of Jimmy, who is also a detective in tow. The title track also indicates that if the case is tough, her fees will be lower.
After nearly three months of waiting, I finally watched the rest of the five episodes of Charlie Chopra & The Mystery of Solang Valley, which is an adaptation of the popular work by Agatha Christie titled The Sittaford Mystery. The mystique of the Himachal mountains plays a pivotal role in the story, as the narrative becomes twistier as the temperature drops.
The darkness in the series, with the painting of Lady Rose, brings about supernatural elements. But what's scarier than humans, who, within a finger snap, can actually murder someone without thinking even once? The specialty of a whodunnit thriller is that each and every character is a suspect, and in some way or another, they do have a motive to kill the person. Here, Vishal Bhardwaj brought together a cast that has never been seen before and gave everyone a character with a unique angle and backstory.
In the past few years, an Agatha Christie-inspired film that has left an impressive mark on many has been Knives Out, which cracked an amazing casting coup. Charlie Chopra follows the same path when it comes to casting. Talking about writing and creating unique characters in a film is like a cakewalk for Vishal Bhardwaj. But delving into that challenge in a long-format series can be quite a task, but for the filmmaker? Not so much. However, despite ending the episodes on a cliffhanger, Charlie Chopra is almost a three-hour-long film spread over six episodes.
With a fiery Wamiqa as the main character, the actor frequently breaks the fourth wall and exhorts viewers to help her solve the mystery. Joining her is a journalist from Delhi, played amazingly by Priyanshu Painyuli. The initial cat-and-mouse chase between them eventually turns them into Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, but that wait ends almost when the series is ending. If it's a film, we'll get an answer in no time. However, whodunniting in a long format does test your patience, despite convincing you that everyone should be questioned and thoroughly investigated. Charlie Chopra almost lands on that path in the third and fourth episodes. But the penultimate episode solves the mystery almost entirely, only to knock on another door—the ultimate reveal!
We are taken into the backstory of Charlie, which indeed brings a surprise but doesn't add much value to the story. Thus, that brings a drop in the series, which is heavy in characters, and a few of those are not given a proper justification. Naseeruddin Shah's character is only an ignition to say that he can talk to spirits, and they help him say what most humans hide. Meanwhile, Ratna Pathak Shah is a quirky character that has some value only because of the grey shades and evil plans that she keeps as a mystery. To be honest, she is indeed a treat to watch, as rarely does the actor go wrong in emulating any character given to her. Imaad Shah is actually an evil person, which is explored well to an extent, only to have little effect.
On the other hand, Chandan Roy Sanyal, who is known for bringing on the negative shades with ease, gets a character that's quite caricaturish of a failed writer feeding off of his wife's wealth. Meanwhile, Lara Dutta gets a meaty character as a mother, who has also been a mistress, but her character's importance is only given via her onscreen daughter. Yes, all these stories are also important in order to confuse viewers about how these characters are also associated with the murder and why they can also be one.
Taking that case in point, Vishal definitely penned a gripping yet with loose ends story along with Anjum Rajabali and Jyotsna Hariharan. He also composed the music, which gives off major Sherlock Holmes vibes along with the haunting Haider; however, the former is more appealing.
Charlie Chopra is a fearless character that has charming sparks, something that's been so long seen on screen in the subtlest way. Wamiqa does zoom you in immediately by breaking the fourth wall and confronting every possible senior person to save her partner, whom she claims was at "the wrong place at the wrong time." The actor after Jubilee showed that with her light eyes and total Punjabaness in her veins, she could pull off this vibrant character set against the backdrop of a mystical valley. She is the noise in this silent aura, but she definitely makes the right one.
Vivaan Shah is barely in the series and is only seen behind bars or in flashback sequences. But it's high time there's more we see of him, and after a brief role in Saat Khoon Maaf, definitely! Another charming actor after Wamiqa and Ratna to watch out for in the series is, of course, Neena Gupta. The actor brings all the emotions together and keeps that mystery intact, which is needed from her.
So does Priyanshu; the actor will remind you of his popular character from Mirzapur, and you might wait for him to say, "Yeh bhi thik hai," here also. However, the actor does make for a good Watson to Charlie's "Sherlock".
Charlie Chopra & The Mystery of Solang Valley is actually quite lighter than Vishal Bhardwaj's recent outings and also the upcoming one, Khufiya. There's a comic undertone that blends well in the mystical valley, where Snow plays yet another character. There's also a supernatural angle, which gives a good start to the series, only to get lost in the light humour that the series maintains through its characters. Even with the evil intentions, the situation in many instances becomes slightly laughable.
But breaking the fourth wall is indeed one of my favourite aspects of the series.
Charlie Chopra & The Mystery of Solang Valley takes a slow skiing trip through the chilling beauty of Manali, where murder meets mystery. The Agatha Christie-esque whodunit, however, gets lost in the blizzard of plot twists but keeps the suspense alive.