In a true democratic emergence of streaming platforms, upsurge in web series have been a real boon for creative people whereby featuring yesteryear actors who may have not get their due worth through hegemony of sorts and unforgiving ways of how bollywood world revolves around star power and their charismatic razzmatazz. Combining forces with raw lineage of new talents are featured in their digital debuts almost innocuously at par with an eclectic mix of award-winning content from across Primes and Netflix which International shows are infamously churning out, monthly.
Not surprisingly, as a percentage of the overall time spent on Netflix globally, Content viewing in India is the 2nd highest. Although the $15.8 billion worth Netflix enterprise, which is available in 160 million homes across 190 countries, rarely shares its viewership data.
Most of the times I sift through huge catalogue of series across various streaming platforms, although realizing that best recommendations are to be found in the comment sections often left by desi bloggers veneers and collections across their comments and IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes non-critic viewer reviews , scored by an audience who are genuinely engaged and interested in discussing the alternate endings of Andhadoondh in same vein of cinematic passion as the shows forlorn writer, as with Netflixes gems such as Roma, Wired and Ozark.
Though there is no dearth of contents across all the genres; be it Documentaries, Suspense, Thriller, Horror, RomComs, whilst content and character arcs somehow are growing beyond exploring complex and daunting narrative dispositions as well as simply told storylines such as Oscar winning Parasite catered with utmost sincerity, pandering to none and all the cine goers.
We are passing through the Mid/ Post pandemic phase in these uncertain times of our lives, though this can be termed as the golden phase for content driven arthouse realistic films.
Here are my 5 most memorable Indian web-series recommendations of recent times and past.
TVF Pitchers (2015) YouTube
Must watch for every young educated Indian who have ever raved about Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley the Pitchers show which was a digression from mundane masala bound content captured youtube audience imagination as fast, funny, relentless, and hugely entertaining not succumbing to censured regulations (ad-proof) coupled with great writing quite accurately encompassing broad spectrum of discovering struggles of entrepreneurship. Start-up life and enterprising spirits of four friends who had nothing in common except the dreams and uncertainties they undertook.
Introduction scene of interaction between Naveen and Bhati which is replicated a certain way culminating into the climatic sequence.
“What are you?” asks Bhati, a character who had just turned a successful venture through funding, In a fit of drunken whiff to his Junior college mate.
This question is a fundamental being of his existence and has been asked and answered by philosophers in million different ways at times eloquently and impractically it may sound. “Some of them said, we’re a form of mass and energy combines” while others proclaimed “we’re a part of universe like every other atom and its constituents”
“You are beer!” says Bhati, refuting all his predecessors. However vague and obscure the analogy may seem at first, when you think it seems to successfully echoes the life struggle of every other person on this planet.
To live within a dream and be successful in real life: you have to be defined as beer, you have the charmed existence in delivering intoxication to the world, make people wanting and lovingly accept you in good and bad times, almost poetically continuing that when you (beer) were being manufactured, you were sealed in a bottle. Now this bottle has become your comfort zone (this can be your current job, your family, your society, your bed or even your sofa). Although you wish to someday fill a beer glass and make people realize your power of submission, you just never want to get out of the bottle (comfort zone). You are either too lazy to get out or you are afraid where you might let yourself out in the outside world. You just remain bottled and see the other beers, getting out of their bottles and filling their master’s glasses. You feel jealous thinking how lucky they are to find a perfect beer glass for them. You are not sure if you could fill a similar glass and hence you remain inside, telling yourself not everyone is as lucky as those beers.
College Romance (2018) NetFlix
Taking cues from Friends, How I met your mother and other BFF stories ever made in Hollywood, College Romance is a breezy, fun-filled story of 3 friends with their takes on romance in life and various struggles with friendship and relationships. Sprinkled with cheesy great one-liners and praiseworthy performances of relative newcomers, especially Bagga (“Boom Boom”) it basically stood apart from the rest as its non-preachy dialog delivery and overtly use of Delhi humor school with believable characters which worked perfectly for binge watch for lovey-doveys.
Favorite Pieces/Best Scenes
Bagga played by Gagan Arora and his Interactions with Trippy enacted by Manjot Singh who are always at loggerheads.
Mirzapur (2018) NetFlix
Dark underbully, Gory violence, Power-lusty Heirs, power struggle of fictional town but familiar small town tale off governance, mafia dons and escapades of Guddu bhaiyaa (Never seen before Ali Fazal as revolutionary abetting revenge with a vengeance), Kaleen bhaiyaa (prowess and finesse of deep rooted acting skills of Pankaj Tripathi), Munna bhaiyaa (Divyendu Sharma playing character at his home turf) and Bablu Bhaiyaa (Vikrant massey finally awakening his ingeniousness after showing his cinematic brilliance in A Death in Gunj) are a revelation of sorts. Almost pulling off inception between Gangs of Wasseypur meets GoT and Omkara into the bylanes of Mirzapur.
Favorite Pieces/ Best Scenes
Khanna ke Do FD toot gaye, Rest kariye, varna Rest in Peace ho jaoge! – Munna Bhaiyya
Kick in the Balls moment within a college classroom aptly showcasing how student politics has gone down the trenches and bifurcated into a dirty abyss. Second dialog loosely pointed to an old uncle dancing aimlessly.
“Neta banna hai toh Gundey paalo. Gundey mat bano. Izzat nahi karte hain… Darte hain sab. Darr ki yahi dikkat hai, ki kabhi bhi Khatam ho sakta hai.” – Kaleen Bhaiyya
To be a leader of masses, gather and command henchman but do not join their clan. Nobody obeys you because of respect but the fear you prevail and it is mutual, fear of losing the power always lurks.
“Attack me bhi gun, defense me bhi gun, Hum banayenge Mirzapur ko Umrica!” – Guddu Pandit
Gun Policy is wielded for both on attack and Defense, we shall make Mirzapur America.
“Ab chahe saanp aake ghar mein dosti karle… Rehta toh Zehreela hi hai na.” – Guddu Pandit
Even If Snake enters your home with good intent, It shall forever be poisonous.
Family Man (2020) HotStar
Taking the espionage and Intelligence operations genre a step forward, this web series captures the struggle of a middle class man masquerading his true identity as secret service office for T.A.S.C, a fictitious branch of NIA whose agenda is to run counter terrorism operations and subvert enemy attacks. In a build up to the ISI attack on Taj hotel and foiling of major national threats, at times counterbalancing his complex personal life equations weaves in several sub plots which the director has tied in with uptight and believable last episode. Without ever parodying the genre, the season one has turned Manoj Vajpayee into finest secret agent with a human touch, it has vehemently managed to remain eminently accessible and retains a fine sense of story telling whilst showing outreach of terrorism (sleeper cells) from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.
Favorite Pieces/ Best Scenes
Drunk Conversation with Pasha, Sreekanth (Manoj Bajpayee) & JK
Pasha (Commando character) who is deeply disturbed with failing an assignment is drunk and Sreekanth (Manoj Vajpayee) humorously comments “mahaul bahut garam hai, but tu kucch ulta siddha mat karna (suicide)”.
Situation may not have been favorable but do not think of a suicide attempt. It turned out hilarious as suggesting suicide to commando is a rare oxymoron.
Manoj Bajpayee Chasing noob terrorist.
P.T. Usha ke bhatije kha bhage ja rha hai (Are you nephew of Olympic runner?) and then to protect his secret service identity shouting at bystanders “Meri biwi ka Mangalsutra leke bhaga hai” (shouts the crowd to catch the terrorist saying he stole my wife’s necklace)
ShowDown with Wife
Realistic sequence of husband and wife tussle over petty things but keeping the integrity and sense of surrounding awareness intact, kids are sleeping, next day chores, home loan discussions giving the whole scene a human touch.
Paatal Lok (2020) Amazon Prime
Thriller genre has been re-defined as the show which puts facts over fiction, leaves no stone unturned in questioning the geo-political and social fabric of India’s existence, almost reached cult status. Lead character “Hathiram Chowdhury” (Jaideep Ahlawat) a Haryanavi cop who is protagonist is driven by his honesty in solving crime and serving truth, finally got his chance on life changing case to upkeep his image, works from His thana (police station), in Outer Jamuna Park, poverty stricken outskirts of Delhi, decidedly belongs to pataal lok (Netherworld) as do, by association, most parts that have practically fallen off India’s map). Cops earn their stripes for cracking these kaands/cases
Basically, nobody cares who commits what crime in pataal lok. Lutyens’ Delhi, nation’s political capital, is swarg lok (Heavenly abode), but what happens in heaven, stays in heaven- making it aimless for a cop to operate in. It is the upper-class colonies in South Delhi — Vasant Vihar, GK2, Southex, etc – whereas the insects from pataal lok, on occasion, bite inhabitants of dharti lok, which then becomes kaand (scandals -Aarushi, Nithari).
Without giving much spoilers, It is when the intended target of an attack in this series meets his would-be assassins at the police station, he finds something primal in those eyes. The target, the married journalist, mentions this to a young colleague he meets at a bar later — right before he sets out to have sex with her. Nothing more primal than that either.
Pitch perfect, actor par excellence of all seasons (Neeraj Kabi) plays the Senior journalist who is fighting for his existence against a wave of sprawling news channels anchors churning stories, being old-schooled and running tidal wave of anti-nepotism against the powerful media lobby which is being held by Industrialists and so called turn-coat commission based defense agents, is a tactical reference to Bofors scam dealers who have made merry with times.
Show is loosely based on former Tehelka editor Tarun Tejpal’s book The Story Of My Assassins, although in the way presented into the lot is a deeply intricate story, being spread over multiple characters, locations and socio-demographics leading to several, separate sub-plots Inevitably though you pick and choose ones wish to cling onto. But you carry on, also because the performances keep you up — whether it’s the fresh, novice cop (Ishwak Singh), or the young journalist (Niharika Dutt),Vishay Tyagi (Abhishek Banerjee) Or Chief Journalist anxiety driven bong wife (Swathika Muherjee) besides a full gang of moronic minions and conniving lords, hovering like behemoths on screen, leaving an impression which is ever lasting.
Towering above all, of course, is the leading man Jaideep Ahlawat as the foul-mouthed cop Hathi Ram Chowdhry who in a sense has made a debut of sorts as he emotes full spectrum of his powerhouse acting, in scenes he looks feisty hard yet weighed down by the pull of circumstances as he marches on.
Yet the show shines a torchlight on a dark India we often read about in Page 6 miscellaneous and often wonder— you can see traces of cases which finds mention, from Mathura ‘mob-lynching’, Ahmedabad ‘fake-encounter’, Jamia ‘terror cell’… It exposes the gutter, and leaves you feeling gutted too.
Because at the end of it humanizes it all, as it presents them with a completely different lens and as mere statistics, or faceless groups — rag-pickers, gunmen, youth, etc. Perhaps essential to visually dissect human turned insects on a micron-scope. Paatal Lok would just chill your spine and shivers your graves; beware and not for faint hearted.
Favorite Pieces/ Best Scenes
Scene before end credits where Hathi Ram narrates a mythological reference from Mahabharatha of Yudhisthira showing his loyalties to his four-legged pooch (all Pandava brothers died), never left on the steps of heaven, was effectively placed and heartwarming.
Another scene which plays in a truly anti-caricaturist way of defining a visual way to instantly judge the intentions of a person:
When Dog loves a man, he is a good man.
When Man loves a dog, he is a good man.
The scene where Hathi Ram instantly connects to a stray dog and gives the fluffball his ice-cream makes us believe in his ‘good man’ theory and what stood out apparently as how we as humans often fail at humanity at large.
I hope you like these selections and introspections, please do send out your honest feedback, responses and critics.