Gullak 3, Panchayat 2, Delhi Crime 2: How content trumped stars on OTT in 2022, Shubhra Gupta lists the best web showsPlay Desi
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It wasn’t just the movies helmed by top Bollywood stars that sank in 2022. The same thing happened with star-heavy web series.
Madhuri Dixit’s ‘The Fame Game’ presented her as a top-flight actor trying to hold on to her position, giving her a backstory of family and foes, and complex relationships. By rights, it should have been just the thing for Dixit, who was one of the few female stars who knew exactly how to use a winning combination of glamour and acting prowess, and of course those ‘dhak-dhak’ skills, to park in our ‘dil’. But the first season of the Dharma-produced show proved that the star cannot be bigger than the writing: the plot was so subservient to her famous aura, that it forgot to tell us a tale.
On almost the same note, Juhi Chawla’s ‘comeback’, ‘Hush-Hush’, just did not do justice to the star it claimed to top-line. A crime-thriller set in a plush highrise of Gurguram, featuring a bunch of old friends struggling to keep their heads above water, made murky by a couple of dead bodies, should have been gripping. It wasn’t.
Perhaps the only exception was Ajay Devgn’s OTT debut Rudra: The Edge Of Darkness, in which the star plays a disturbed cop (are there any other kinds?) tracking depraved killers, while dealing with an estranged wife, her current lover, supportive-and-dodgy colleagues, and an attractive woman who does evil things for reasons best known to herself. Devgn didn’t really have to work hard to switch from his familiar movie self to stretch across a web series: heroes win, bad guys lose.
Here are the web series which stood out for me, in no particular order :
Mr and Mrs Mishra and their two sons (Jameel Khan, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Vaibhav, Harsh Mayar) circled back a third time to invite us into their modest home, giving us a peek once again into their little joys and sorrows. It’s a rare feat to present familiar characters in a familiar setting, and keep us as engaged. One of the best, not just of this year, but in the Indian OTT space: I’m all set for the next edition.
Did the return of Sachiv ji, Pradhan ji, Pradhan Pati ji, and the sundry gaon-walas who make up the Panchayat gang make us want to jump on to the next train to the nearest village on the map, just so that we could check every hilarious element out for ourselves ? Perhaps not, but that was not about to stop us from whooping it up with Jitendra Kumar, Neena Gupta, Raghubir Yadav, Chandan Roy and company. As droll, and as much fun as the first part.
Delhi Crime 2
The cops we’d got to know in the first part are back. The first series was based on the Nirbhaya rape, and as crimes go, it was hard to top its bestiality. This time around Shefali Shah, Rajesh Tailang, Rasika Dugal, Adil Hussain, and their compatriots are busy solving the brutal killings of elderly couples in ‘posh’ Delhi colonies. Tillotama Shome shows up in an unexpected turn, and Delhi is as dark as it has ever been. Careful how you go.
History tells of the long years of work put in by Homi J Bhabha, Vikram Sarabhai and their colleagues, to get to a point where India could successfully kick-start its space programme. These rocket boys who helped a very young India soar, are played by Jim Sarbh and Ishwak Singh (in the Nikkhil Advani-Abhay Pannu series) with a degree of zest which is irresistible. Yes, in places it turns ‘filmi’, bordering on exaggeration. But overall, ‘Rocket Boys’ manages not to be a flimsy flight of fancy, as it well could have been, but absorbing all the way.
Khakee: The Bihar Chapter
Netflix series, created and written by Neeraj Pandey, is based on the real-life exploits of a cop who was sent into the badlands of Bihar, and survived to tell the tale. The protracted battle between an upright IPS officer, played by the fresh-faced Karan Tacker, and his chief antagonist, played by a terrific Avinash Tiwary, as an underprivileged man reluctantly pushed into ‘goongiri’, is occasionally marred by flat patches. But the series stays true to its subject, and place. Guns and shoot-outs, you got ‘em. Machinations of the state, ditto. I laughed out loud at Ashutosh Rana, craftily chewing the scenery.
Crime and punishment is at the heart of Pushkar-Gayatri’s ‘Suzhal: The Vortex, which upped the Indian web-series game considerably this year. The plot is satisfactorily dense, going back and forth in time. Deaths, red herrings, suspects, past sins, all jostle for attention, in a village engulfed by its annual festival, in which a local deity is worshipped, and noisy daily processions taken out. Well-crafted, atmospheric, just the kind of thriller which thrills.
A legal thriller, intelligently written, and well-acted, on the lines of ‘The Practice’ and ‘Law and Order’, this series gave us believable lawyers of all hues: smart, empathetic, and plain devious. Directed with insider knowledge by Shefali Bhushan and Jayant Digambar Somalkar, what we did not get were the stuffy, worn cliches Bollywood has gravitated towards: high drama in the court-room, judges thumping their chests, and bombastic speeches. Being matter-of-fact can be equally, if not more effective. Those who sit in judgement are not always white, and those who do things deemed unlawful are not automatically black. Give us a second season, quick.