A lot of what followed after Advantage Covid on the OTT platform was plain garbage. There were sparks of excellence all through the year. Here’s my pick of the best from the digital domain.
1. Undekhi(SonyLiv): This excruciatingly exhilarating journey into the rot at the heartland of privileged feudality is like one straggly but stubborn beam of light in a dark tunnel. I must admit I came away with despair from the ten episodes of Undekhi. But it is not end-of-the-world despair but the despair of waiting for the beginning of a new era when, hopefully, the super-rich in our country would understand that wealth and the accompanying power comes with a responsibility towards the weaker sections.The arrogance of unlimited wealth is on full display as the Atwal family prepares in scenic Manali for the Big Fat ‘Greed’ Wedding of their heir apparent. The series plays out partly like a news report and partly like an allegory on exploitation .As a tribal girl runs for her life in the jungles she reminded me of Smita Patil in Ketan Mehta’s Mirch Masala. Except that the villain pursuing the damsel in distress is far more dangerous than the caricatured Subedaar in Mirch Masala.Undekhi is a mirror of our times. Produced by Applause Entertainment(worthy of applause, indeed) and directed by Aashish Shukla Undekhi must be seen.
2. Scam 1992(SonyLIV): Hansal Mehta’s narrative, based on the infamous Harshad Mehta Dalaal Street scam, is not afraid to get its feet wet in the mud. Hansal looks at his Gujarati characters with a certain respect and admiration without excessively edifying them. The journey from the cramped two-room apartment to the sprawling glass-encased affluence of Harshad Mehta and his family is delineated with vigorous authenticity.
That the director is a Gujarati and his leading man Pratik Gandhi too is a Gujarati goes a long way into constrictive an energetic yet calm edifice of middleclass ambitions and how far an individual is willing to stray from him home territory in pursuit of big bucks. While remaining true to journalist Sucheta Dalal and her co-writer Debashish Basu’s book, Hansal’s deeply authentic series explores Harshad’s family, his relationship with chief players of the stock exchange in more depth and detail. What Hansal has done is to open up the Harshad Mehta saga , denuding it of any admirable aura but nonetheless retaining the basic dignity of a saga that changed the way the Indian middleclass looked at money.A remarkable achievement, again produced by Applause Entertainment.
3. Pataal Lok(Amazon Prime Video): This one just blows you away, no two ways about it. After suffering the load of crap that’s being offloaded on the digital platform to make hay while the sun strangles, Paatal Lok comes as a jolting reminder of what levels of brilliant storytelling can be achieved on the OTT platform by those who know how to use the extended space afforded by the medium. Not a single moment is wasted in the 9 episodes of taut and coiled storytelling. This is a series that requires our complete and unconditional attention as Sudeep Sharma’s devious screenplay slithers from one level of dramatic tension to another without an iota of self-congratulations. Life never promised us a rose garden.And Paatal Lok is not afraid to create a stink.This is a series that can take potshots at its dramatic interjections and narrative exclamations. Many times during the gripping narrative I found myself praying for things to go the right way. But it’s always the other way. Death in this series is always sudden violent and irrelevant. Just like life.
4. Four More Shots Please(Amazon): Season 2 of Four More Shots Please is far more well-informed and shapely than Season 1. The performances even the men , are uniformly likeable even when the characters are doing unlikeable things , like cheating on their wives and showering way too much attention on their girlfriend. Warning to potential spouses and mates: too much attention is even more dangerous than too little. Four More Shots celebrates life in all its ugly uncomfortable messy glory. It’s a really goodlooking series with some exquisite locations where the characters just shit, puke and pee on the idyll. From guys who come too soon to girls who never reach on time, Season 2 sweeps across the tempestuous spectrum of the man-woman axis, laying deliberate stress on what women want but ensuring that the men have a voice too.It’s been a while since I watched every episode of an OTT series. No, not binge-watched. That would be doing no justice to the dialogues that just flow with a sardonic wisdom.I watched it a little at a time savouring the incidental details.
5. Hasmukh(Netflix): It’s like Arjit Singh being hired to play a bad singer.It takes a very brilliant actor to play a bad actor. Vir Das,a first-rate stand-up comedian , plays an inept pathetically cheerless stand-up comedian in Hasmukh who needs a strong impetus to make him come alive on stage.No, a shot of that strong beverage won’t do. Something far more potent…like murder perhaps?It is a tempting premise for a crime thriller. Something like Sonam Kapoor playing a couture queen who kills to kill it on the ramp.And Vir Das , who really should be seen more often, simply nails it. He is an innocent, virginal wannabe comic virtuoso bullied by his abusive uncle, and sexually molested by his aunt who gropes him while he makes the tea.Chai-ld abuse?