Mumbai Diaries 26/11 premiered in September 2021, a time when the world grappled with the relentless waves of the Covid-19 pandemic. This gripping eight-episode drama centered on the events that unfolded at a government hospital during the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
However, its narrative also struck a chord with the struggles of the healthcare community, operating within a flawed system, battling inadequate funding and resources, and redefining success in the face of adversity. It resonated with the times, feeling closer to reality, and its ‘tribute’ served as a vehicle for anti-establishment sentiments.
The heroism portrayed was complex, far from glamorous. Instead, it portrayed the diagnosis of a flawed system, rather than laying blame on its people. While that moment may have passed, the arrival of Mumbai Diaries 2 hints that the challenges persist, and the story continues.
Eight months after enduring the repercussions of a man-made crisis, the semi-fictional Bombay General Hospital finds itself at the epicenter of a natural disaster. The narrative’s timeline is manipulated for the sake of storytelling continuity, with the 2005 Mumbai floods reimagined as a 2009 event. However, the underlying concept of a franchise remains deeply rooted in the ongoing structural tragedies of a socio-political nature.
This captivating new installment faces the challenge of reminding its audience that Mumbai’s cultural identity is often reduced to mere dates: 26/11 in the first season, 26/7 in the second. Nevertheless, these dates and the iconic incidents associated with them are merely triggers.
The core issue transcends time, and the root cause is human. It takes aim at the malfunctioning mechanisms of a city whose calamities are too frequently reframed as acts of courage, whose survival is described as ambition, whose nightmares are marketed as tales of the underdog, whose lives are commodified as stories, and whose apparitions are portrayed as the embodiment of the “Mumbai Spirit.”
The delicate space between the visual and the vision, this is both the unspoken and the spoken narrative. A news anchor, who gained fame by vilifying the hospital, experiences disillusionment when her editor instructs her to spotlight “stories of hope” amidst the deluge.
Her desire is to expose unscrupulous builders and administrators, yet the channel prefers to romanticize the floods. She yearns to pose probing questions, but her employers prefer to assume the role of moral arbiters.
A bureaucrat orchestrates a sugar-coated public relations tour of the hospital for a visiting British delegation, much to the chagrin of its chief, a surgeon reduced to the role of a hospitality figure. A revered figure within Mumbai’s medical community becomes a public spectacle, made the scapegoat by a system seeking to divert attention from the death of a 26/11 hero.
The delay in disbursing compensation packages drives a desperate nurse to contemplate the black-market trade. A grieving trainee is manipulated into testifying against her well-intentioned boss.
While the world applauds the efforts of the Bombay General Hospital staff, their internal foundations are crumbling. They never sought the limelight. This time, there are no terrorists to provide an escape from the violence within.
An Unseen Kaushik Oberoi
Mumbai Diaries 2 ingeniously harnesses the familiarity of a sophomore season to its advantage. The maverick surgeon, Dr. Kaushik Oberoi, portrayed by Mohit Raina, undergoes a significant transformation, grappling with self-doubt instead of his previous defiant persona.
This decision generates anticipation for his grand return, reminiscent of a shattered superhero reclaiming his identity. The hospital, a metaphor for the city, reflects the chaos and resilience of Mumbai. It’s overcrowded, under construction, and constantly under pressure.
The series skillfully conveys the hustle and pain amid the promise of resilience. Amidst the madness, moments of humanity and silence emerge, shaping the chaos into a semblance of order. The production design takes center stage, emphasizing the role of the place’s people in rescuing it.
In this fast-paced setting, characters are constantly in motion, reflecting the frenetic rhythm of their lives. The series portrays a world where rules don’t apply, and the central conflict revolves around the futility of “protocol” in meeting demand. Ultimately, Mumbai Diaries 2’s storytelling is driven by its unique visual style and the resilience of its characters in the face of adversity.
Transitioning from a Supporting Cast Member to the Star
In the expansive and multi-dimensional world of Mumbai Diaries 2, it’s truly remarkable how the various technical departments seamlessly collaborate rather than competing for attention. Elements like cinematography, sound design, and the gripping score are intertwined, creating an immersive experience.
The portrayal of power-cut situations is masterfully executed, contrasting darkness with urgency and noise with raw emotions. The exceptional performances of the cast are intricately connected with the staging and editing, enhancing the overall storytelling.
Notably, Balaji Gauri as the matriarchal head nurse Cherian and Mrunmayee Deshpande as Dr. Sujata shine among the supporting actors. The series employs long, unbroken takes that gracefully transition between the lives of characters, reflecting the circumstances they face.
The storytelling deftly juggles multiple threads with clarity and momentum, ensuring that viewers are never overwhelmed by the complexity of the narrative. As the series reaches its climax, the action intensifies, and it’s impressive how the story remains coherent throughout the night, with only a somewhat shaky finale.
Above all, the writing of Mumbai Diaries 2 is intricately woven into its commentary on real-life issues. Unlike some other shows that tend to stick to a one-message-per-character template, this series is deeply rooted in the bustling heart of Mumbai’s reality.
It draws inspiration from a range of real-life events, including a juvenile-home scandal, a railway-bridge collapse, a coming-out journey, a midwife-assisted birth, and the struggles of a suicidal young individual, making it a compelling and thought-provoking watch.
Chitra Finds Her True Self
The standout performance in the series comes from Konkona Sen Sharma, who portrays Chitra Das, the hospital’s director of social services and a survivor of domestic abuse. Chitra’s past comes back to haunt her in the form of her estranged husband, Dr. Sourav Chandra.
The show avoids painting Sourav as an outright villain, exploring the intricate psychology of abuse. He is portrayed as a complex character, sometimes even appearing as an unsung hero of the night. Chitra’s own inner conflict mirrors our own: Can monsters change? Parambrata Chatterjee’s portrayal of Sourav, despite a somewhat exaggerated Indo-British-Bengali accent, adds to the character’s moral ambiguity.
The series raises the question: Can being a good doctor also make someone a good person? The final episode is somewhat disappointing in terms of resolving this dynamic.
These personal conflicts don’t exist in isolation; they spill over into the public realm. Sourav stands up to a pushy bureaucrat, making the audience sympathize with him despite his dark history. Chitra’s struggle also affects her professional life, as she balances mentoring a trainee in an STD case while facing a potential abuser.
The writing skillfully highlights the lack of systemic support, leading these doctors to intervene when needed, going beyond their job descriptions. The show’s best moments stem from these doctors’ inability to remain confined to their roles, driven by empathy and a sense of duty. These interventions feel authentic and are shaped by each character’s unique identity.
For example, the middle-class Maharashtrian doctor unravels a child-abuse conspiracy because of her innate curiosity and determination. The nepotism-hired doctor embarks on a coming-out journey and lectures parents due to her privileged background and personal struggles. The Chief Medical Officer takes on a challenging brain surgery because he’s tired of being restricted by his management role.
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Mumbai Diaries 2 thrives on this intimate connection between impression and expression, reflecting the essence of cities like Mumbai, defined by the lives of its residents. Diaries, after all, are filled with personal letters and confessions.