Aarya review: Sushmita Sen holds together Ram Madhvani's show, a welcome detour from soulless fast-paced thrillers
Aarya enters the inner sanctum of a business house with a crooked moral compass.
Sometimes it is not a simple choice between what is right and what is wrong. Sometimes, one has to choose the lesser of two evils.
This line (loosely translated) from the crime and family drama Aarya sums up a central theme of the show. Creators Sandeep Modi and Ram Madhvani have adapted the original Dutch series Penoza to an expansive and emotional nine-part series that centres around Aarya Sareen (Sushmita Sen), a homemaker facing a crisis of faith and family.
The world of narcotics is no bed of poppies. When a drug business, under the guise of a pharmaceutical company, gets mixed up with the wrong people, the three partners find themselves in a fix. One of them, Tej Sareen (Chandrachur Singh), Aarya’s husband, gets shot. Another, Sangram (Ankur Bhatia), lands up in prison while Jawahar (Namit Das) disintegrates under pressure. This leaves Aarya to manage her three children, a stuttering business, a vengeful drug lord Shekhawat (Manish Chaudhary), dysfunctional parents, a persistent policeman Khan (Vikas Kumar), and a series of troubles that dog her at every stage.
Madhvani, Modi, and co-director Vinod Rawat waste no time establishing the power dynamics, and deposit Aarya in the centre of a life-threatening conundrum. She is pursued, threatened, betrayed, cornered, and compelled to sharpen her claws in order to protect her three children. The show then slows to unhurriedly but regularly lob one nightmare after another at Aarya.
Writers Sandeep Srivastav and Anu Singh Choudhary build in several plot twists and grisly moments to keep you interested, but the chaos can be infuriating at times.
The slickly-crafted show draws you into Aarya’s thorny life. The backdrop of Rajasthan is a welcome change from the crime dramas set in central India that have proliferated Hindi filmed entertainment lately. Do not expect Indian exotica though. Thankfully, there are no sand dunes, camels, and mirror work-clad royals here. The lack of exposition is also refreshing; information is revealed (a little too) gradually over nine episodes.
Anything that could go wrong starts going wrong. There is also Aarya’s bitter mother (Sohaila Kapoor), who is unreasonably unkind to her husband Zorawar’s (Jayant Kripalani) younger lover (Flora Saini). Some loopholes in the script include why the shooting of a high profile businessman is not being actively investigated, and why security is not beefed up at a home that is vulnerable to attack. There is also the matter of the dynamics between Tej, Sangram, and wild-card Jawahar.
The creators forsake the breathless pace you might expect from this genre to concentrate on establishing the emotional core. Themes such as the impact of trauma on children, and how violence and crime affects people differently are sensitively handled.
Moments of joy and nostalgia in the Sareen household are sound-tracked by Hindi film songs. In contrast, the background score can be piercing at times, vibrating at a different rhythm to the hushed and conspiratorial conversations in the foreground.
Dispensing with the repetition of peripheral drama, such as Jawahar’s breakdowns, an American son-in-law’s study of the Bhagwad Gita, and the jealous ex-wife might have helped give the series a sharper clip.
Shot with multiple cameras, the show takes the viewer into a world populated with grey characters. Sen holds the series together. As the vulnerable and frightened mother, the suffering wife, the supportive daughter, and the unsuspecting inheritor of a shady consignment, she literally and figuratively towers over everyone else. This meaty role allows her space to express herself.
You want to comfort her when she loses her husband, shake her up when she alienates her children occasionally, and talk sense to her when she tries to fight the battles alone.
Sen is backed by a cast of steady performances — her children played by Viren Vazirani (Veer), Virti Vaghani (Arundathi), and Pratyaksh Panwar (Aditya), the excellent Maya Sarao as Jawahar’s wife who compliments Das’s complicated role as the doped-up schemer, Vishwajeet Pradhan as the evil henchman with a tender side, and Sikander Kher as the mysterious and unswerving Daulat. In a brief role, Chandrachur Singh sets the nucleus to the family and its predicament.
The tone and themes of the show will resonate with those familiar with Ozark, Narcos, Breaking Bad, and, of course, Penoza, as it enters the inner sanctum of a business house with a crooked moral compass. Yet you feel strongly for this family that stays together through the crisis, making smart and foolish moves, captained by a woman who just does not give up.
Aarya is now streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.
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