3 OTT Gems
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.
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 Tripathy, Jitendra 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.
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.