We seem to be heading towards a complete shutdown of public places. The world says in one voice that the only way to stop the COVID-19 virus from spreading rapidly is ‘social distancing’. As a result, many offices have instructed their staff to take a break from regular work or work remotely from their homes. State governments have ordered cinema halls, shopping malls, pubs and other places where people gather en masse to shut down until further notice.
There may be exceptions but most of us have suddenly discovered that we have some extra time in hand due to this virtual ban on stepping out for some entertainment and relaxation. If you have subscribed to streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, this is probably the best time to catch up on films and shows that you have missed out in the recent past. If you have not subscribed to these, well, this is the right time to do that! Here are some recommendations for you from what I have been watching. I hope you will find these interesting. Netflix and Amazon Prime have been producing Indian web series for the local and global markets since last few years. These are some of the best from that recent ‘made-in-India’ releases that you may indulge yourself in.
1. Jamtara (Netflix)
Number of episodes: 10
Series duration: 4 hours 20 minutes
PG rating: 18+
Jamtara, in my opinion, is undoubtedly one of the best made-in-India series released last year. It blows you over with its all-new cast and an inventive-yet-rooted storyline. The show is based on a true story—the Jharkhand phishing scam—and the title is the same as that of the town from where the massive, country-wide scam was pulled off. Trishant Srivastava’s screenplay focuses on small-town ambitions of a bunch of juveniles turning to a monster that goes out of control and the crushing of their dreams by a politician who want to take the lion’s share of the moolah that they mop up by making fake calls. Amidst the hunt by the mafia and police, there is also an interesting love track between a couple who share the same dreams: Sunny (Sparsh Shrivastav), the smartest among the scamsters and his love interest Gudiya (Monika Panwar) who marries him to realise her own dream of making quick money and then live a prosperous and peaceful life devoid of any trouble. Though a bit shaky in the beginning and inconsistent in parts, the first season of 10 episodes contains all the ingredients worthy of a dark thriller that you can binge-watch. The surprising climax would keep you thinking about what to expect from the next season.
2. Made in Heaven (Amazon Prime)
Number of episodes: 9
Series duration: 7 hours 55 minutes
PG rating: 18+
To me, Made in Heaven was a throwback to Mira Nair’s BAFTA-award-winning 2001 film Monsoon Wedding. It’s a coincidence that a bunch of women (different episodes are directed by Rima Kagti, Zoya Akhtar, Akhtar, Shrivastava, Nitya Mehra, and Prashant Nair) are unwittingly living up to the legacy of the film by an ‘arthouse’ director, which I remember watching in a packed theater in Bangalore! A befitting tribute to the cosmopolitan marriage drama, Made in Heaven opens with the two wedding planners, Tara (Sobhita Dhulipala) and Karan (Arjun Mathur), working on a high-profile wedding. Several connected subplots unfold, involving the two leads and the members of the family, without any of them looking out of place. Tara who hails from the down-market suburb of Delhi wants to stand on her own after steadily building up her profile working as an assistant to a business tycoon and marrying him and Karan who is the son of a wealthy businessman is on his way to prove himself after missteps that landed him at the mercy of a loan shark. As they navigate the muddy world of business together, several skeletons tumble out of the veil of class and social status. You can feel the differences in storytelling in the episodes directed by different directors but it adds to the beauty of it and never hampers your interest in watching it till the last episode.
3. Sacred Games (2 Seasons)
Number of episodes: 16
Series duration: 13 hours
PG rating: 18+
It won’t be an exaggeration to say that Sacred Games is singularly responsible for elevating the stature of Indian web series globally. The two seasons of Sacred Games is the most sure-footed Indian thriller available on streaming today. Vikram Chandra’s novel based on which the series is scripted, offers the series a layered narrative with hard-hitting socio-political commentary that fears or spares none. The cat-and-mouse game between Sartaj Singh played by Saif Ali Khan and Gaitonde played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui enters a much bigger plane with the threat of nuclear war looming large on the nation and many more dangerous characters entering the fray for their pound of flesh. Once you start the game, it gives you enough conflicts to engage with in each episode. You cannot stop watching it at any point, thanks to the treatment that ends every episode in suspense. The relevance of the sequences and the characters in the current political context will shock you and the drama with dialogues laced with profanity, which has come to characterise the series, will keep you riveted. There are rumours about yet another season after Season 2 too became hugely popular. If you are a fan of the franchise, you can’t ask for anything better.
4. Mirzapur (Amazon Prime)
Number of episodes: 9
Series duration: 7 hours
PG rating: 18+
Mirzapur is not a new series to be part of this list, the first season was released over two years ago. However, the second season has been in the works ever since the 9-part first season of the series proved. Amazon has not confirmed the release date for season 2 but since the trailer is out, it is expected to go on air anytime soon.
The crime thriller starring Pankaj Tripathi, Ali Fazal, Vikrant Massey and Shweta Tripathi narrates a fictional story of gang wars and the nexus between crime and politics, set in the Purvanchal region of Uttar Pradesh. Modelled on the Anurag Kashyap franchise of dark thrillers rooted in the Hindi heartland, Mirzapur boasts of strong characters, both male and female, and some interesting sequences that doesn’t let you drop it midway. The screenplay neither revolves around the life of any particular character nor narrates the story with a moral core. The Mirzapur saga revolves around Akhandanand Tripathi who is known as Kaleen Bhaiyya, a businessman who deals with carpet and arms businesses and rules over Mirzapur as a self-styled don, his rogue heir Munna and the two ambitious brothers Babloo and Guddu who become Kaleen Bhaiyya’s trusted aides out of their sheer ambition to make it big in life. Pankaj Tripathi as Kaleen Bhaiyya and Vikrant Massey as Babloo are in top form, so are the women, especially Shriya Pilgaonkar as the brave Sweety Gupta who falls for Guddu and Sheeba Chaddha as Vasudha Pandit, the unconventional and power-hungry mother of Guddu and Babloo. Her transformation from a housewife to one that wears the clout of her powerful sons who work for the mafia is a curious watch. Rasika Dugal who plays the daughter-in-law of the Tripathi family is another interesting character, especially for her rebellious sex life that pushes her to trouble towards the end. The first series ends in a generational shift in the crime syndicate and points to a bloody revenge on the cards.
5. Delhi Crime (Netflix)
Number of episodes: 7
Series duration: 6 hours 49 minutes
PG rating: 16+
Delhi Crime, directed by Indo-Canadian filmmaker Richie Mehta, was first released as a Netflix original film. It may be a late realisation that the story demanded a longer format or the plot had the potential for a series than a film. The tautly scripted film was a good watch but the series too maintains the character without compromising much for the longer version. The backstory of the investigations into the Nirbhaya rape and murder case that shook the nation is visualised in its most realistic manner in this series. Told from the perspective of the police officers who investigated the case, the 7-part series unravels how they could bring the culprits to justice within days, working under intense pressure from political, judicial, media and civil society circles. The role of DCP Vartika Chaturvedi is safe in the hands of the eminent Shefali Shah. She anchors the proceedings with her stellar act, the smiles are far and few in between and the frustration, anger, helplessness and fatigue flashing on her face with every passing hour and sleepless nights investigating the ghastly crime. Shefali has already won several international awards for her performance. With the news that the makers are working on the season 2 of the series, watching the first series is worth the time.
Stay indoors, follow the instructions of the authorities to avoid contact with the deadly virus and to take necessary medical attention when required. If the restrictions on social life continues, we will revisit the topic with a definite list of movies that you can watch.
Let us hope that the pandemic is contained soon enough. This too shall pass, just stay ‘negative!’
Till then, happy watching!
(Dress Circle is a weekly column on films. The author is a communication professional and film enthusiast. Read his past works here.)
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