Where does the depiction of exploitation mutate into a form of exploitation itself? The answer is embedded in this sickeningly violent eight-episode series on human trafficking where the victims, all children and young women, are violated so brutally and graphically that after a point (in my case I’d say, around episode 3) you just stop caring about what happens to these poor tortured souls. Beyond the pain, there is the realisation that there are some very sick people out there and some of them may be involved in the making of this carnival of taunting torture and sadism. By the time Akshay Oberoi, all decked up to shock playing a crossdressing sadistic flesh trader named Taj Dada, got down to be sodomised severely in a public toilet by a white sidekick, I was ready to flee as any sane person would be.
This is not a series on human trafficking. It’s a repertory of gruesome sexual violation that includes a sequence showing little children being forced to watch pornography. Wait, don’t throw up yet. It gets worse with every episode. If I had to pick the most reprehensible image of sexual violence ever seen in Indian cinema it would have to be the moment where a sex trafficker forces his sidekick to perform vulgar sexual acts in the presence of a little girl.
Like I said I got more worried about the mental health of the creative brains behind this bestially brutal series than the grisly characters who frog leap from atrocity to atrocity in the hope of shocking us into a gasping mass of trembling viewership. To be honest Flesh is more disgusting than arresting. Swara Bhaskar as flesh-trade buster-cop gets groped early in the plot. She braves the vitiated air that the series breathes in, in the hope of finding some sense in the depravity and mayhem. She is in a losing battle with barbarism. Towards the last few episodes Akshay and Swara are pitched against one another in a twist of the plot that is more far-fetched than fascinating.
Furiously implausible and using the authentic card as a pretext for perverse violence, Flesh is a monstrous misfire where two parallel stories of two missing girls come together in an unexpected twist of fate. But sorry, we have seen this twist in the Manoj Bajpai-starrer Gali Guleiyan already. As for brutal films about the flesh trade, try Nagesh Kukunoor’s Laxmi which is violent and brutal but never gratuitous and exploitative. Right at the start of Flesh, a kindly Sardarji is savagely shot in the head. I felt relieved for him. At least he was spared the rest of the subhuman violence.