INDIA: The year 2020 has proven to testing year for the Hindi entertainment industry. At a time when the Coronavirus outbreak forced the human population at large to spent majority of its time indoors, the different OTT platforms came to the rescue. We even witnessed several big banner films such as Laxmii, Sadak 2, Dil Bechara, Chhalaang, and Gulabo Sitabo, among others, directly releasing on OTT. As the growing emergence of the web continues to rub off on the world of films in a big way, content is slowly emerging as the undisputed king, whether one speaks of films or long-form storytelling (series, miniseries, etc).
Here are some of the most outstanding outstanding Hindi series from 2020.
10. Mirzapur 2
‘Mirzapur 2’ serves as a far better example of long-form storytelling than the first season. While the first season merely served as a pastiche of sorts of the filmmaking style of Anurag Kashyap, the second season is far more mature and cerebral at various levels. Now, Divyendu Sharma’s Munna was easily the best part of ‘Mirzapur’ and while Munna remains the most colourful character in ‘Mirzapur 2’ as well, it is Ali Fazal’s Guddu that impresses the most. And Ali is up to the challenge. Guddu shares some scenes with Shweta Tripathi Sharma’s Golu. A minor character from the first season that takes a center stage in the second season is Sharad Shukla. He keeps shifting his loyalties, sometimes working for the Tripathis, and, at other times, working against them. Surprisingly, it’s Pankaj Tripathi who proves to be a major disappointment this season. He just appears to be going through the motions. Thankfully, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, playing his crippled father, comes to the rescue. Every time the veteran is on screen the show attains a different level of brilliance.
9. Bandish Bandits
Bandish Bandits came across as a breath of fresh air as the time when the Indian web space was flooded with a myriad of crime / psychological thrillers. The duo of Amritpal Singh Bindra and Anand Tiwari deserve all the credit for creating a musical feast like Bandish Bandits. Set in the musical city of Jodhpur, Bandish Bandits follows a singing prodigy determined to follow in the Hindustani classical footsteps of his perfectionist grandfather and a rising pop sensation desperate to become India’s first international popstar. Now, Hollywood has a great tradition of musicals. It’s typically a genre in which songs by the characters are interwoven into the narrative, often accompanied by dancing. The songs may contribute towards plot advancement or character development. They may also serve as breaks in the narrative. Now, typically the actors are required to sing their own songs in the Hollywood musicals. On the contrary, Indian films depend on lip-syncing which opens up exciting possibilities.
Asur is part crime thriller, part police procedural made in the vein of similar offerings in the US such as True Detective, Hannibal, Mindhunter, and Dexter, among others. The events of Asur unfold in two different timelines. While one of the story arcs is set in the present day US and India and revolves around a bunch of CBI officers specialising in criminology, the other begins 18 years earlier in Benares and revolves around a boy named Shubh who is looked upon as a curse by his own father as he holds the boy responsible for the death of his wife who died while giving birth to him. What elevates Asur above similar works of its kind made in India nowadays is how it blends elements of Indian mythology and philosophy with the best practices of western criminology and forensics. The series marks the web debut of Arshad Warsi. It also stars Barun Sobti, Riddhi Dogra, Anupriya Goenka, and Sharib Hashmi in the pivotal roles. The biggest achievement of the series is that it manages to deliver regular thrills, often in form of quick busts, but without ever going for any big moments.
7. Aashram (Chapter 1&2)
This MX Player series helmed by Prakash Jha follows a self-styled god-man named Nirmal Baba, essayed by Bobby Deol with an air of understated menace. The series is a great return to form for Prakash Jha. Casteism is one of the biggest reasons India is still suffering as a country even though more than 70 years have passed since independence. Jha, who has tried to tackle this issue throughout his career, uses the storyline as well as the characters of Aashram to take us to the very heart of discrimination. The series is also a reminder of how easily the people can be fooled by those in positions of power. Like when Nirmal Baba says, “True devotees are inevitably blind,” it really sums up the essence of the show so well.
5. Panchayat and Flesh
Amazon Prime Video series Panchayat offers an alluring sneak peek into rural India. The simplicity of village folk and how it ends up creating unnecessary complications in the life of the protagonist are a recurring motif in the series. The light hearted series benefits from some clever writing and brilliant performances from an ensemble cast well led by Jitendra Kumar. Not since Malgudi Days has any show explored the spirit of rural India so well.
The Danish Aslam-directed Eros Now series Flesh stars Swara Bhasker in the role of an insomniac and a hard-drinking police officer with a troubled past, who is pitted against the basest criminals as she tries to unravel a web of immorality, cruelty and corruption. While it is certainly not easy to watch for the faint-hearted, there is no denying that Flesh is an earnest attempt to portray the stark reality of human trafficking. It dares to jab us in the small of our backs, reminding us of the dichotomy that exists between the civilised world and the real world, hiding behind the veneer of civilisation, where anarchy and barbarism still reign supreme. Flesh also features a menacing performance from Akshay Oberoi.
ZEE5 exclusive and Zindagi Original series Churails has been one of the biggest surprises of the year as far as the Indian web space is concerned. Written and directed by Asim Abbas, a British-Pakistani filmmaker, Churails features a Pakistani ensemble cast. The series follows a group of Karachi’s women (a lawyer, a wedding planner, a boxer, and an ex-convict, among others) who run a detective agency to expose the city’s unfaithful, elite husbands. Banned in Pakistan for its strong content, Churails is nothing like anything you would have watched this year. It’s a cool, refreshing, and no holds bar entertainer.
2. Pataal Lok and Special OPS
Created by Sudip Sharma, Pataal Lok is marked by constant tonal changes. The Amazon Prime Video series starts off as a police procedural cum investigative thriller but then it takes noirish shades before transforming into a family drama only to take noirish shades once again. Paatal Lok revolves around a washed-out cop named Hathiram Chaudhary (essayed by Jaideep Ahlawat). While the series is essentially a blend of different genres, it is during its noir parts that the series is at its most exhilarating and the credit goes to Navdeep Singh who is the script consultant on Paatal Lok.
Created by Neeraj Pandey, Special OPS is made in the vein of slow-burning espionage thrillers made famous by the works of the recently deceased English novelist John le Carré. The Hotstar series has vast panoply of characters—bureaucrats, politicians, cops, soldiers, spies, terrorists, brokers, hackers, terrorists, etc.—with many subplots spread across two decades. Special Ops follows Himmat Singh (essayed by Kay Kay Menon) of Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), who draws similar patterns in various terrorist attacks carried on the Indian soil, starting with the 2001 Indian Parliament attack, and is convinced that a single person has masterminded all the attacks. In order to nab him, he sets up a team of five agents living in various parts of the world. Special OPS is undoubtedly Neeraj Pandey’s best work till date.
1. Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story
The SonyLIV series, helmed by Hansal Mehta, tells the story of the rise and fall of Harshad Mehta. The series stellar ensemble cast features the likes of Pratik Gandhi (in the central role of Harshad Mehta), Shreya Dhanwanthary, Anant Mahadevan, Sharib Hashmi, Satish Kaushik, K.K. Raina, Lalit Parimoo, Rajat Kapoor, Vivek Waswani, Shadaab Khan, and Mami. Now, Hansal Mehta deserves a lot of credit for choosing to make a series on Harshad Mehta. Credit must also go to the co-director Jai Mehta and the writing team. Hansal Mehta’s has been a rare voice in the country that seems to have taken interest in documenting real-life characters and actual events through his films, Shahid and Aligarh, and the series, Bose: Dead/Alive. And by making a well-researched series like Scam 1992 (his best work till date), Mehta has further boosted his reputation as a storyteller interested in documenting reality. In a way, he can be compared to the great American filmmaker Oliver Stone.
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