Premiered in 2021, Mumbai Diaries 26/11 was a tense, sobering series about the human spirit under unfathomable strain. With the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks as backdrop, creator and co-director Nikkhil Advani homed in on a set of characters — doctors and nurses, cops and hotel managers — and the ties of courage and compassion that saw them through that fateful, calamitous night. After a gap of two years, a second season, also directed by Advani, is now streaming on Prime Video. It carries over the format of the first instalment: another night, another crisis, another eight episodes of Mohit Raina leaping gallantly and recklessly into action. What’s perhaps lacking is the breathless urgency of Kaushal Shah’s fluid cinematography — he’s replaced here by Malay Prakash — and a certain chokehold Advani managed to exert on his audience.
Though months have elapsed, everyone at Bombay General Hospital is palpably haunted by the events of 26/11. Dr. Kaushik Oberoi (Mohit Raina) is standing trial — in court as much as in the public eye — for medical negligence, accused of prioritising a terrorist’s life over a brave cop’s. Kaushik’s wife, Ananya (Tina Desai), is expecting again (they had a miscarriage in the past, which had strained their marriage). Compensation packages to the victim’s families have been held up due to the ongoing probe—”It’s just an excuse to not pay,” a character says bluntly. It’s now the eve of 26/7, a date infamously associated with the catastrophic Mumbai floods (which actually took place in 2005). We see signs of a steadily intensifying downpour: leaking roofs, stalled traffic, a splash of rain smudging the dress of Social Services Director Chitra Das (Konkona Sen Sharma). Soon enough, it’s an all-out deluge, marked by accidents, water-logging, and patients pouring into the emergency ward of Bombay General.
The 2005 Mumbai floods killed over a thousand people and brought a teeming metropolis to a halt. Though it’s clearly the inspiration here, writers Yash Chhetija and Persis Sodawaterwala also allude to more recent events. Such as a stampede on a foot overbridge that ultimately collapses combines incidents from 2017 and 2019; Mumbai recorded severe rainfalls in both those years. With buildings crumbling across the city, news anchor Mansi (Shreya Dhanwanthary) pursues a story on construction scams — a permanent talking point of the annual floods. Just as the COVID-19 pandemic added resonance to the first season, with its frontline workers risking their lives to safeguard a city, so the new season arrives amid harrowing visuals of the Sikkim flash floods, which has claimed over 20 lives so far.
Mumbai Diaries (Hindi)
Creator and director: Nikkhil Advani
Cast: Mohit Raina, Konkona Sen Sharma, Shreya Dhanwanthary, Tina Desai, Satyajeet Dubey, Mrunmayee Deshpande
Run-time: 40-55 minutes
Storyline: The management and staff at Bombay General Hospital battle a new calamity in the form of the 26/7 Mumbai floods
Advani, as before, explores precise human narratives through the prism of a larger tragedy. At its most perceptive, Mumbai Diaries continues to examine everyday heroism as a complex, prolonged, painstaking act. The trajectory of bravery is often roundabout, incidental. Two of the characters set off on personal quests and end up unlikely saviours. Others reel from immense moral and ethical quandaries: trainee doctors involving themselves to the point of breaking protocol, a nurse acting selfishly in a moment of weakness, an out-of-practice neurosurgeon shuddering to make an incision on a child’s open brain.
There’s also a thread of physical and emotional violence which runs throughout the new season of Mumbai Diaries. It is most pronounced in the subplot of Chitra and Saurav (Parambrata Chatterjee), her abusive husband who’s tracked her down to Bombay General after she disappeared on him years ago. Konkona Sen Sharma is by turns steely and tremulous in an affecting role, and Parambrata — who last played a hard-to-pin-down doctor in Bulbbul— is thrilling as a virulent agent let loose on the hospital floors. The show is further helped by the presence of old-school actors like Balaji Gauri and Sanjay Narvekar. Mohit Raina is more torn and tortured than ever before, and while he delivers an adequately inward performance as Kaushik, he’s one of those actors who are best observed in motion (his female counterpart in Hindi cinema would be Taapsee Pannu).
As the heavens pour down, the series swerves back and forth from relationship drama and medical thriller to disaster epic. Production designer Priya Suhass recreates the traffic snarls, the flooded streets, the railway platforms overflowing with stranded commuters and primed to erupt any moment into chaos. The gliding single takes that created a sense of immersion and urgency in the first season are minimised here in favour of more conventional shooting and editing. The visual imagination is limited at best: a hackneyed shot of Kaushik punching his framed medical degree in frustration comes to mind. A power outage in the later episodes plunges the hospital scenes into darkness. If the idea was to distinguish the climactic portions from anything that has gone before, a trading in campy horror lighting and framing does them no favours.
Nikkhil Advani has made one of the most interesting transitions from films to series in recent years. The director, at times, gives in wholeheartedly to blatant audience manipulation, and a tendency to load subplots and crises to bursting point. The flashes of wry observation — such as a conscience-stricken Mansi protests in the newsroom that she is sick of regurgitating words like ‘spirit’ and ‘hope’ — are undone by the emotive swell in the final stretch, with several characters reconciled and important learnings underlined. This approach feels less than organic. It’s resisted wonderfully by a minor character in a scene. “This is all very new for us,” he rejoins. “We are trying to understand. It will take time.”
Mumbai Diaries Season 2 is currently streaming on Prime Video