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Top 10 Indian Webseries of 2020-21

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Scam 1992, 1st in Top 10

The web space in India was enjoying a decent growth, but 2020 changed the game for OTT platforms in a massive way. While the production of content was relatively less because of the shooting restrictions, the audience lapped up OTT content from the safety of their homes during the pandemic.

Much like the last couple of years, crime-drama was the flavour of the season, but this time around, we also saw different genres being explored in the OTT space. A show about the share market and a show about musical rivalry in a family gained success, further proving that the OTT space has grown out of its nascent stages and is starting to find its own feet. A show shot during the lockdown also became a shining example of the kinds of experiments that can be done on the platform.

Asur (Voot) –

Asur is streaming on Voot.

Asur is streaming on Voot.

Asur is a 2020 Indian Hindi-language crime thriller web series, produced by Tanveer Bookwala of Ding Entertainment for the video on demand platform Voot. The series stars Arshad Warsi, Barun Sobti and Amey Wagh. The series is set in the context of a mordern day serial killer having religious ties.

Asur, which combined the genres of mythological fiction and thriller, revelled in its larger-than-life theories, but its grandness wasn’t communicated well enough. Asur also faltered when it came to tying up loose ends by the end of the season

The Gone Game (Voot)-

   The Gone Game is streaming on Voot.

The Gone Game is streaming on Voot.

The Gone Game was filmed during the lockdown and was a unique effort by the creators and actors. The show’s usage of technology, in terms of Zoom calls, text messages, was exemplary and in my opinion, better than many shows that are made with all the resources at hand. While Gone Game wasn’t extraordinary in the story department, it more than made up for it by effectively translating to the screen the paranoia that had consumed us during the corona virus-induced lockdown.

The Gone Game on Voot Select is an interesting experiment, a four-part series which cleverly utilises the onset and impact of the virus as a crucial plot point, leaving us staring at a puzzling scenario: what happens to a seriously ill Covid patient (Arjun Mathur) when he is taken to hospital? Is his wife, a social media addict (Shriya Pilgaonkar) as worried as she appears? Will there be an end to the dodgy ways of his businessman father (Sanjay Kapoor)? What hold does a scruffy fellow (Dibyendu Chatterjee) have on the dad? Will his loving sister (Shweta Tripathi) and her ex discover the truth?

Panchayat (Amazon Prime Video)-

Panchayat is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Panchayat is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

This TVF series starring Jeetendra Kumar had a simple premise, and as we have often seen in the world of web content, it is usually simplicity that wins the day. The show’s uncomplicated nature introduced us to characters who were extremely likeable. The best part about Panchayat was its strong casting supported by Raghubir Yadav, Neena Gupta and Chandan Roy. The show released during the lockdown and its content left the audience feeling a little warm and fuzzy.

A gram-pradhan-pati whose ringtone is “Rinkiya ke papa”; an actual gram-pradhan who is illiterate but her sass could give the ‘South-Delhi Girls’ a good run for their money; and the panchayat sachiv, who has a permanent bewildered expression on his face — all this quirk and more awaits you in Panchayat, the latest offering by Amazon Prime Video presented by TVF. The show could easily have been bifurcated into two — 1) why can’t the panchayat sachiv ever catch a break 2) How the panchayat sachiv got his groove back.

Flesh (Eros Now)-

Flesh is streaming on Eros Now.

Flesh is streaming on Eros Now.

Another crime drama series, this one was quite traditional in its approach towards good vs evil where, for a change, the protagonist was a good cop fighting hard against crime. Led by an impressive Swara Bhasker, Flesh was quite graphic and gory in its representation of human trade, but with its use of repulsive visuals, the show drove the point home.

There is no other way to say this: Flesh, the eight-part Eros Now web series, which reveals the bare flesh of its trafficked humans in disturbingly violent ways, is a flinch-fest. I often had to close my eyes. But this also has to be said: I was compelled to keep returning to the proceedings because I wanted to know how things would pan out. Flesh smartly manages to maintain that very tough balance, between showing us repulsive, depraved people doing repulsive, depraved things, and keeping us watching, despite ourselves.

Pretty teenager Zoya (Mahima Makwana), the daughter of a permanently bickering NRI couple Shekhar and Reba (Yudhishtir Urs and Vidya Malvade), goes missing. As her distraught parents start doing the pillar-to-post thing with the Mumbai police, a parallel track shows the working of a vicious gang which runs a profitable prostitution racket. Once a girl is sucked into these bowels, it’s hard to uncover any trace: the path is well-oiled with bribes and threats.

A Simple Murder (SonyLIV)-

A Simple Murder is streaming on Sony LIV.

A Simple Murder is streaming on Sony LIV.

This deliciously dark comedy came as a breath of fresh air. Starring Mohd Zeeshan Ayyub, Sushant Singh, Amit Sial, Priya Anand among others, the series took an absurdist approach to its sometimes serious content. For the most part, A Simple Murder was so well done that you couldn’t help but marvel at its writing and performances.

The characters fit right in, in this seven-part web series, directed by Sachin Pathak. Manish (Mohd Zeeshan Ayyub) is the kind of guy who thinks his start-up success is always around the corner; his impatient wife (Priya Anand) wants a quick buck, or million, and doesn’t care what she has to do to that end. A young couple (Ankur Pandey and Tejasvi Singh Ahlawat) is on the run, fearing for their life: she, the daughter of a furious Jat neta, him a Muslim. Whoa. A pundit (Yashpal Sharma) with a nifty ‘supari’ side-business has a string of contract killers on call: a madly-in-love-with-his-‘mashooka’ Amit Sial, and a bearded, leather-jacketed Sushant Singh, stir things up, and it’s all very enjoyable.

Bandish Bandits (Amazon Prime Video)-

Bandish Bandits is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Bandish Bandits is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

In the era of crime-drama web series, Bandish Bandits took the audience by complete surprise. It only took a couple of episodes to get enthralled by the world of classical music that this series created. While the music was a significant pillar of this show, Bandish Bandits stood strong on the shoulders of its story. Sheeba Chadha, Rajesh Tailang, Atul Kulkarni and Naseeruddin Shaha were a treat to watch in this Amritpal Singh Bindra and Anand Tiwari series. Special props to Shankar Ehsaan Loy’s music as well.

Shot on location in Rajasthan and Mumbai, the series opens in Jodhpur, in the ‘aangan’ of a big haveli, where Sangeet Samrat Rathod (Shah) is holding a class. He’s the crusty custodian of his ‘gharana’, and one of those formidable teachers of Hindustani classical who demand, and receive, absolute discipline. Despite failing hearing, inevitable with ageing, his word is law: even his family, including his grandson Radhe Mohan (Bhowmik), also one of his most able ‘shishyas’, addresses him as Panditji.

Paatal Lok (Amazon Prime Video)-

Paatal Lok is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Paatal Lok is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

This Jaideep Ahlawat-led series is another crime drama on the list, but Paatal Lok deserves a spot here. The Indian Express film critic Shubhra Gupta wrote in her review, “Paatal Lok is fashioned as a crime thriller-cum-police procedural set mainly in Delhi, spinning off into several threads, some really solid, a few comparatively weak, but managing to keep its hold on us. Weaving in an awareness and recognition of contemporary India makes it political, and elevates it: Paatal Lok is intelligently written, fast-paced, and engrossing, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Paatal Lok is an old-fashioned, evocative word which means hell or the nether-world, the exact opposite of swarg-lok aka heaven. And in this tale written by Sudip Sharma, produced by Anushka Sharma, we are led inexorably into darkness, which gets darker at each step: there are some parts here, doused in blood and bone and gristle, making even the most hardened fans of gore wince. I confess to closing my eyes in a couple of scenes, but the violence isn’t gratuitous because it has history: we know there will be blood.

Special Ops (Disney+ Hotstar) –

  Special Ops is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.

Special Ops is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.

Created by Neeraj Pandey, Special Ops started in a promising manner and largely stuck to the promise. Kay Kay Menon fit right into Himmat’s part and was easily the show-stealer here. The only con here, in my opinion, was the fact that the stakes were never just high enough for us to be concerned about the good guys in the finale.

The show begins with Himmat Singh, a RAW intelligence officer, ‘whose reputation precedes him’, being audited by an internal committee for the expenses incurred by his team, which include business-class trips around the world among other things. Jokes are made about requisition slips by the auditors, which are juxtaposed by Menon’s tirade about these expenses incurred in the line of duty by those who protect the nation. It’s in the audit we get to know about Singh’s 19-year-long manhunt for an elusive terrorist, Ikhlaq Khan, the mastermind of the 2001 Parliament attack. The cat-and-mouse game between this know-it-all terrorist and Menon’s team forms the core of the show.

Aarya (Disney+ Hotstar)-

Sushmita Sen is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.

Sushmita Sen is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.

This Sushmita Sen-led series just did not waste any time in building up to the premise. Soon after the first episode began, it was obvious that Aarya was going to be a binge-worthy ride and it proved to be so with every episode that rolled out after. The layered characterisation, Sushmita Sen’s screen presence and the smart use of old Hindi film music also helped Aarya’s cause.

Watching Aarya reminds you of how well it incorporates that classic phrase, ‘even in the best families’. From the outside, Aarya Sareen, a supremely fit, still-stunning mother of three, seems to have everything: loving husband, luxe life, no problems other than to choose the outfit of the day from a seriously classy wardrobe. Scratch a little, though, and out spill several cans of wriggly worms, which keep us busy watching through the nine episodes of the web series, co-created by Ram Madhvani and Sandeep Modi. Yes, there’s dirt and grime under all that glitter, and that happens in the best of families.

Scam 1992 (SonyLIV)-

Scam 1992 is streaming on SonyLIV.

Scam 1992 is streaming on SonyLIV.

This Hansal Mehta series raised the bar for Indian web content in 2020, and the impact of this Pratik Gandhi-led series will surely go a long way. In the space where violence and gore sell like hotcakes, Mehta’s show proved that good content does not require to be dumbed down to reach the masses. With just a couple of episodes, Scam 1992, based on Harshad Mehta’s securities scam, draws you completely into the world of share market. Everything from its theme music, to its simplification of technical jargon, to even its choice of filter worked in the show’s favour. The casting of the show has been praised in the last couple of months and deservedly so.

Money is what makes the world go round, they say. It certainly made Harshad Shantilal Mehta tick. Those who lived through the late 80s and early 90s will recall the meteoric rise and rise of the man who came to be known as The Big Bull, labelled thus because he began the bull run of the stock market in 1991, which ended in a massive crash. Thousands of people lost all their money. Many became bankrupt. Some prominent citizens lost their lives, and reputations. And Mehta became the most wanted man in India.

A prestigious business magazine cover at the height of Mehta’s seemingly unstoppable run of the market, called him ‘The Raging Bull’. The accompanying story sounded as dazzled by him as was the general ‘junta’. What everyone forgot that a rise always comes before a mighty fall. And finally, that’s what it was, a cautionary tale: greed is not always good.

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