Inside Edge to Aranyak: Here’s all that was worth watching on OTT during the month gone-by

If you are confused about what to watch on OTT platforms, here is a list. From the second season of Aarya to Raveena Tandon’s Aranyak, check out all the December releases.

Subhash K Jha January 03, 2022 10:12:39 IST
Inside Edge to Aranyak: Here’s all that was worth watching on OTT during the month gone-by

December witnessed some of the best OTT releases. We saw Sushmita Sen return with Aarya's new season, Raveena Tandon’s digital come-back with Aranyak, Vivek Oberoi’s third installment of Inside Edge, R Madhvan in Decoupled, among many other shows. 

Inside Edge 3 (Amazon Prime):

December was a month of cricket at the movies. The month ended for cricket fans with Kabir Khan’s ’83 and started with the third season of the cricketing franchise that kicked off in 2017, Inside Edge is still likely to hold some interest, no ifs and ‘bats’ about it. Batting and betting remain the series’ patent preoccupations. The characters, all 155 of them (no I wasn’t counting, just guessing) remain locked in a self-serving vault where they can only see the world as a place to mint money, and more money. Sporting ethics be damned. The ten episodes of Season 3 have their high points. The primary characters seem to have a back story that doesn’t quite justify let alone rationalize their slithering moves as over-ambitious go-getters. The age-old rivalry between the stepbrothers played by Amir Bashir and Vivek Oberoi (both in brilliant form) is given some sort of centrality in the plot. Nonetheless the storytelling this time is fatally unanchored. The characters who (over)populate the plot are either ill-formed or ill-informed or both. Sapna Pabbi as Bashir’s daughter Mantra frantically trying to legalize betting cuts a particularly sorry figure especially when pitched against a “professional” anti-establishment journalist who at one point, is shown masturbating to Mantra’s video image. I am not too sure what that is supposed to signify? That he wants to f..k her over not only on camera but in person too? Too many characters here are either not sure of their actions or just too sketchily drawn to be convincing in their manipulative moves. Either way, the storytelling suffers grievously for the want of credible characters and finally falls fatally to the floor writhing on the ground helplessly. Not all of it is in vain. Some characters despite hazy lazy writing, succeed in leaving a positive impact largely because of good performances. Amit Sial as a blunt-speaking off-spinner is a showstopper. Siddhant Gupta’s Imaad, a privileged Kashmiri batsman who is brought into the Indian cricket team from the backdoor, has three levels of discrimination (as a Muslim, Kashmiri, and a figure of favouritism) to grapple with.

Aranyak (Netflix):

No comparison intended. But in Satyajit Ray’s classic Aranyer Din Ratri the forest held so much mystery and intrigue, it was almost like exploring a universe of foliage in search of the true meaning of life. The forest in Aranyak is also crammed with mysteries, as a series of murders occur in the thick of the forest. The gruesome goings-on in the greenery is attributed to a beast called the nar-tendua, half-man half-beast, full monster. So is the nar-tendua responsible for the multiple killings? Or is a deadly human impersonating the beast-man's bestial bloodshed technique? The answer to that is of course obvious. Aranyak milks the mystery of the forest. But it doesn’t go deep enough. The director Vinay Waikul, relatively new to the craft, stops short of exploring the wide mysterious landscape. Most of the tense narrative is confined to the indoors with the actors captured in clenched sweaty close-ups as they open up old wounds that never healed. The series opens with the brutal murder of a French tourist Julie’s daughter Amy. Julie’s “French” accents prove as elusive as the murderer, slipping in and out at will. Raveena Tandon’s pahaadi accent is more reliable. She plays a hard-nosed gritty cop on the verge of taking a year-long sabbatical from her official duty when the serial killer strikes. Her role has echoes of Mita Vashisht in the far-superior series Your Honor. Raveena in her OTT debut is impressively transformed. Her scrubbed face, suspicious eyes, and tense alert body language constantly convey that Kasturi Dogra knows more than she is willing to divulge. Kasturi’s partner in crime is the ever-dependable Parambrata Chatterjee. Does he ever give an inept performance? As Angad Malik, the cop who initially comes to take over Kasturi’s job but soon makes her his chief accomplice in crime-busting, Parambrata gives Raveena just the right queues. Sadly the plot lets them down at all the crucial points. Where there should have been high drama, there is a sense of anti-climax. The denouement is especially disappointing. Indian whodunits think zeroing in on the most unlikely suspect is the best methodology to wrap up a suspense drama. In truth, the lies and red-herrings are a huge distraction to a credible conclusion to the whodunit. The supporting actors hardly get a chance to emerge from the thick foliage. Ashutosh Rana, Meghna Malik, and Zakir Hussain are actors who never let the plot down even if the plot chooses to let them down. They grapple valiantly but in vain with the improbabilities in the plot. The young cast comprises characters who are either in serious trouble or looking for it. There are many gaping wounds and open cesspits in this messy serial killer on the prowl. What works is the relationship between Tandon and Chatterjee. Tandon’s effort to be a good mother and a good wife(the latter includes buying sexy lingerie, a desperate move that prompts a sarcastic comment from her husband on “supermom, Masterchef, and Sunny Leone”) while being a conscientious cop are well conveyed. The series could have gone for the jugular—like the killer does—but instead choose to just prod some secondary veins.

Aarya 2 (Disney-Hotstar):

Normally the thought of a sequel to a web series scares the hell out of me. These encores are more often than not, an excuse for carrying things too far. Not Aarya. Not Ram Madhvani and Sushmita Sen. The lethal duo have sculpted the most engaging crime drama on this side of the first season of Mirzapur. Aarya 2 is everything that a sequel to a triumphant first season should be. It is gritty and revealing, powerful and yet sensitive where it needs to be. The shocks and surprises never stop spilling out right until the end. It is a deftly-written drama yoking its violent heart with solid storytelling that moves fluently from hand-held camera sequences to solidly-grounded dramatic conflicts where the camera abnegates its presence. Madhvani who is a master of dramatic crisis uses Sushmita Sen’s powerhouse presence to fuel the kind of agile angry emotions that show her character as a woman in charge without masculinizing her character. Sen’s Aarya Sareen is at once Diva and Don. Macho and Feminine. She is fire and ice without making a song and dance of the fusion process. It’s hard to imagine what Ram Madhvani’s series would have been without his leading lady. Sushmita anchors the violent heart of the plot with a bedrock of macho muliebrity. If Aarya’s family is her weakness, her children are also her strength. She nurtures the mother within her with her sweat and blood. It’s a performance steeped in a history of fiercely protective motherhood from Nargis in Mother India to Sridevi in Mom. Aarya Sareen’s journey into the heart of darkness is well-plotted. The tension never slackens as the plot takes Aarya through a journey of family feuds and patricide that leave her as stunned as the audience. While Sen towers over the plot the other actors are drawn with notable sharpness. Ankur Bhatia’s Sangram (Aarya’s brother) and Sikandar Kher’s Daulat (Aarya’s faithful right-hand man) stand out in the crowd of jostling avengers. And Aarya’s best friend Maya (Maya Sarao) has the single most powerful moment in the series when she flings aside self-interest to be a loyal friend. Not all of the storytelling works that well. There is an important cremation sequence where the emotional velocity goes out of control. And the way Aarya finally takes on the mafia is a hard pill to swallow for the audience. What works without fail is the director’s confidence in his heroine’s ability to conquer adversity. When it comes to her children Aarya Sareen never falters. Even if her world is falling apart she makes sure that her family doesn’t slip through the cracks. I love the way Madhvani uses gunshots to punctuate the anxiety and fear rather than to highlight the violence. He has a penchant for vintage music. Lata Mangeshkar’s Aa Jaan-e-Jaan and Mohammed Rafi’s Chahe koi mujhe jungle kahe come into play as though they were composed for this occasion only. There is a disquieting inevitability about Aarya. A sense of foreshadowed crisis makes it an incredibly irresistible experience. Season 3 is eagerly awaited. Suraj, Aarya’s latest enemy, is on his way. He doesn’t know what he is up against.

Decoupled (Netflix):

Arya Iyer is the kind of middle-aged party pooper you wouldn’t want as your neighbour, let alone your neighbour at a restaurant. Rest assured, if Arya Iyer is around, a situation of embarrassment is bound to be created. Huge embarrassment. Somewhere towards the end of the series Arya’s wife (serenely played by Surveen Chawla), eager for a divorce (or is she?) wonders aloud, “Can we not have at least one evening without you creating a scene?” The thing about the Arya Iyers of the world (rare birds as they are) is that they tell the truth which civil behaviour disallows and blocks out completely from the range of social conduct. Madhavan’s Arya is an oddball, a freak who is ruinously forthright. Calling a spade a spade, and an asshole, he takes us from one fiercely brutally honest encounter to another. The encounters are devastating in their impunity. This excursion from one level of insouciant insolence to another, could have rendered the series jerkily episodic…you know, like Aryan Meets Chetan Bhagat in the Loo, Aryan Gets Caught Naked In The Locker Room, Aryan Refuses To Shake Hands With Pubescent Fan(arguing that the boy most probably doesn’t wash his hand after masturbating), Aryan Tells Father-in-Law To Have Protected Sex(to prevent ma-in-law from repeated urinary tract infection), Aryan Tells His Loyal Driver To Stop Farting In The Car, etc. All of the above really and truly happen in the course of the 8-episode dramedy. The sheer inappropriateness of the situations that crop up routinely in Arya’s life is a joy to witness. Rest assured, you have never seen anything like Decoupled before, not in this country where only the foolhardy attack the sacred cows. Writer Manu Joseph lets his acid tongue loose all over the plot. The sarcastic quips flow in a tireless torrent, so much so that you are likely to miss some of the less conspicuous barbs. In the land of the brash and unkind, there lives a mysterious ogre that enjoys gloating at the squirmy discomfort of the inhibited. Decoupled provides us with a strange stirring aphrodisiacal pleasure that comes from knowing that nothing is sacred anymore. At least not for a while. Homosexuals, feminists, the elderly, and the intellectual are all insulted. Chetan Bhagat’s novels and the globally acclaimed Korean film Parasites are demolished with devilish delight. The barbs never stop, and that’s where the pleasure spots lie. Writer Many Joseph presses hard on the pleasure spots, eliciting a kind of wolf-whistle pleasure from us the viewers that we haven’t experienced since Seinfeld stormed into our sensory perception. Not all of it works equally well, though. But that’s the beauty of acerbic writing. It’s not meant to work uniformly well. For every occasion that Arya Iyer makes his mordant point on the hypocrisy of urbane lifestyles, there is always the other side when his frankness hits a wall. Ouch to that. Even when Arya falls, we wait for his next strike. He never disappoints in this comedy of ill manners.

The Whistle Blower (SonyLIV):

The Whistleblower is neither an authentic reflection of the Vyapam scam nor an engaging onscreen interpretation of it. It’s just something that could have amounted to a lot more if only the writers had searched for a better moral centre to what’s a hotbed of corruption. All we get is an unconvincing cat-and-mouse game with educationists behaving like street dogs in the mating season. The Whistleblower is more bark than bite, more wrong than right, and more noise than substance. It attempts to expose the education scam in Madhya Pradesh by projecting it as organized crime, which it probably was. Here in the hands of content creators who are amateurish, the educational scam seems a smaller sin as compared to the scams that allow such mediocre content to make its way to the streaming platform. Perhaps the writers and the team of The Whistleblower meant well. Education IS the backbone of a growing society, when it falls into the wrong hands it is bound to have severely deleterious ramifications on the entire nation. The show’s hero Sanket is neither heroic nor appealing enough to carry the show’s morality on his shoulders. Ritwik Bhowmik who plays him is passably competent. This subject demanded more than just basic competence. What the series needed was a strong ideologue as a hero, not a wimp who sleeps with two sisters, played by Ankita Sharma and Ridhi Khakhar, both of whom are foolish enough to knowingly fall for this sex scamster? I found the whole siblings’ shared manpower to be utterly distasteful. I also prayed for Sanket’s libido. Imagine the sisters comparing notes at the breakfast table.

Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based film critic who has been writing about Bollywood for long enough to know the industry inside out. He tweets at @SubhashK_Jha.

 

 

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