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3 OTT Gems From Amazon Prime That  You Might Have Missed

OTT Gems

Rasbhari(Amazon Prime)

OTT Webseries: Imagine –and imagination  plays a pivotal part   in this  provocative coming-of-age  series—if Sushmita Sen  , the  sexy teacher in Main Hoon Na walked out of Farha Khan’s  neverland  to land in Meerut  to teach English in a school filled with  curious adolescents of both sexes. Rasbhari walks  that thin line  between  erotic and sleazy .

It succeeds in making  the   theme of sexaual  awakening stimulating and  graceful. Of course it helps that  the  actors are fully into it,so much so that they seem  to have reached the location long before the screenplay was written.Swara Bhaskar is  sure  to  give her right-wing fans goosebumps in her part as  the  seductive educationist whose  approach  to teaching is  wildly con-conformist. She  provides lessons to her students far  beyond her classroom.  In  a sequence that is bound to raise  more eyebrows Swara’s teacher  educates the film’s young hero Nand( Ayushman Saxena) and his  girlfriend  (Rashmi Agdekar) in the art  of  foreplay. But  here’s the thing.

A sequence such as  above , or the one where Nandu goes  to a prostitute to  lose his virginity  only to discover that  ‘she’ is  a transgender,   is done not to shock us or  sensationalize the subject  of  sexual objectification  . The theme   of student-fantasy and the  impact  a  beautiful sophisticated women  has on the  small town, is  captured  with  ease fluency  warmth and humour. Writer  Shantanu Shrivastava and director Nikhil  Bhat  never forego the basic dignity and grace of  the  characters even when their libido is doing all the talking.

There is a  sequence where   Nand and his  father (the ever-dependable Chittaranjan Tripthy) argue  outside  the teacher’s door about wasting time and money on tuition. The minute she opens the door the father is putty in  in the teacher’s   hand.Interestingly  the  writer invents a  saucy doppelganger for Shanoo,  a tawaif from the past ‘Rasbhari’   who is so  unabashed in her sexual  advances  she  makes the pleasure  of  verbal  intercourse sound like  sexual intercourse.

Swara  is  equally adept playing both  the parts making sure not to  go overboard with the sexual suggestions in either avatar.The  writing goes a long  way  in controlling the  film’s titillating  flavour  from going out of control. Though at times  the  plot tends to get somewhat bloated with self-importance(check out  the  film’s unspoken critique against moral  policing)  Rasbhari is remarkably tempered  in tone avoiding an aggressive  style of storytelling to let  the  characters grow with the  flow.What comes across strongly  is  the woman’s right to be what she is, to wear what she wants  and  go where her  heart takes  her without slotting her as a slut.

There are brief pre-credit flashbacks  into  Shanoo’s  childhood where  her  brother is  shown  to be  instinctively favoured  by  her parents.  Somewhere the rebellious streak in a woman  is shown to  colour not the woman’s life but the live of those she  touches.

Panchayat(Amazon Prime)

OTT Webseries: This one  knows. Just knows.  Panchayat is  an insider’s job. Its  director(Deepak Kumar Mishra), writer(Chandan  Kumar) and the  actors, in big and small roles, they all know the rural milieu first-hand. Which explains why  it all appears  so real, so  lived-in and  so smartly unsophisticated.

Panchayat comes  from the team that  made Jitendra  Kumar a web-star with Kota Factory. This time Kumar is cast as  a employable  but rather  bleakly-positioned  working class Indian who has  no choice  but to take  up a job as a secretary  in a village panchayat in Uttar Pradesh. As  Abhishek TripathyJitendra  brings in his  trademark laconicism and a smirking  disdain for administrative  and moral  strictures. Sensibly,  the  8 episodes can be seen  as independent stories,  vigorous  vignettes from an almost lifeless existence in a UP village named  Phulera.

Shot on  location I could almost smell the  stench  of deathly stillness and ennui. Not all of Abhishek Tripathy’s   “adventures”(if one may use the word to describe the  rather humdrum incidents that are  perked  up by some  insightful writing) are  uniformly workable and some of  them, like the one where he takes on a couple  of goondas from the locality for a  fistfight in  a maidaan as barren as  the life of  the villagers, just don’t  build up into  something substantial.After a point , the  cruel insubstantiality  of  the lives being described  in the series, begins to get  to you.

There is  no hope of  a better tomorrow for  villages such as  Phulera . What  keeps the episodes  from sagging under the weight  of its own despair  is  the sheer  brightness of the characters . These are  not people who are aware of the futility of their  existence . In fact they are proud of  it.At one point, Abhishek’s  smiling genial assistant Vikas(Chandan  Roy, a gem  of  an actor) tells  Abhishek, “Atma-samman bhi koi cheez hoti hai.”  A quality that seems  incongruously high among these proud but  rudderless products of  an irredeemable  wastelandPanchayat is  high  on credibility and  intelligent  insightful writing. But  be warned .

Neena Gupta’s role is  dismayingly under-developed. We  hardly meet this woman of substance who is the rubberstamp head  of  the  village  panchayat while  her husband(Raghuvir Yadav, who takes to the rural life like  fish to water) rules. Neena  has only one  episode to herself and that’s the  final episode  where the actor and  her character come into their  own . This is   by far the  the  best episode  of  the  series. The rest? They are teasing, heartwarming  scenes  from a rural life that is rapidly vanishing  from the  cinematic radar.Hold on  to it.

The Last  Hour(Amazon Prime)

OTT Webseries: Although the  plot may seem dense  and unnecessarily  cryptic   to begin with, there is plenty to be admired  in The Last Hour. In  a market cluttered with serials of every hue . it dares to venture  into the never-never world of North Eastern mysticism, cracking the code of  a gripping crime thriller while   it moves along at a pace that is never too urgent but always heedful of  the  brisk momentum required  by the thriller genre.

The  writing (by  Anupama Minz and director Amit Kumar) secretes a  kind  of  primeval  wisdom that  could be taken as borderline  mumbojumbo. Luckily the  focus is  not  so much on  the mysticism as  the  characters. Set in an  imaginary North Eastern state called Mangchen(which  looks  uncannily like Sikkim), The Last Hour  begins where it ends, with a bored cop Arup Singh’s pretty daughter Pari threatening to  jump off those resplendent heights of Sikkim.

This  series is a visual  treat,  with cinematographer Jayesh Nair capturing the local flavours and  rituals with   more  integrity than a touristic  curiosity. The  mountains, meadows  lakes and streams are omnipresent. But they  never  overpower  the characters.Till the last( and I watched  all  the 8 episodes) Last Hour remains  a  study  of  after-life as seen  through the prism  of  a  rapidly-changing  social  structure where the  modern  and the ancient are uneasy bedmates.

The  protagonist Dev(Karma Takpa,a prized  find) is a local with mystical powers. He  can enter  a newly slain  person’s mind to know what exactly happened to him  or her in the final  hour of his life.I have no  clue if such a supernatural phenomenon  actually exists. It probably  doesn’t. But the lead actor whoplays the spiritual link  between this  and the other world  is  so  unconditionally  convincing, so  into the otherworld, that he takes us along on his  fascinating frightening enigmatic  journey.

The scenes where  Dev travels with the newly-dead murder victims are special in their power  to convey the  meditative  mystique   of  afterlife. Shot in a saturated  orange glow, they  accentuate  the  actor Karma Takapa’s  cryptic personality while bathing the plot in  spirituality and  bloodshed. The Last Hour is a sum-total  of  many things. It is a serial-killer thriller with an  assassin with supernatural powers named Yama Nadu(played by Robin Tamang) stalking his  young victims with the  help  of  a henchman named Thapa(Lanukam Ao).

The ruthlessness of this  deadly duo is appalling. But bearable because at  the  other end  of  the spectrum this is  a love story between   the  man who can see  into afterlife  and a  vulnerable shaken young woman Pari(Shaylee Kishen)  who has lately lost her mother(Raima  Sen,  in a  ghost appearance) and  probably  doesn’t see much of her workaholic  father(Sanjay Kapoor, looking more like  an affluent entrepreneur than a  cop).How the  bloodshed and  romance eventually coalesce  is  the crux of this voyage  into the   unknown.

The  narrative wraps its shapely limbs around  the  picturesque locations, navigating  the plot through a  maze  of  events and action which involve cops and corpses.Many  of the roles are  played  by  talented North Eastern   actors who infuse a large  dose  of authenticity to the proceedings. Dewashish Lama as  a  polio-inflicted young  college student who has  a deep dark past and  Tenzien  Choden as the spunky  selfemployed woman secretly in love  with Dev, are  worth a special  mention.It is Karma Takapa  as Dev who does  most of the heavy lifting in the plot.

He is  more than capable,  conveying a deep sense of hurt pride while  showing himself  to be  a natural product  of his culture  and ethos.

Sadly the series wastes the  very talented Shahana Goswani as a cop who seems  to know more than she’s willing to tell. The  plot doesn’t have  much time for her.Holding back  information, maintaining secrets and  reading whispers are  vital to  the proceedings. The Last Hour  might not qualify as  great entertainment. But it  is  a bold and  often  brash departure from  the norm. And it opens up a window into a  world where we seldom  dare  to venture.

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