Entertainment: A Guide for Binge Watchers
Binge watching has reached new heights, with streaming platforms regularly offering up a slew of exciting Indian shows. The Big Three—Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hotstar—are producing excellent content, competing for your time and your already weary eyeballs. Here’s a list of recent must-watch shows, along with some if-you’ve-got-nothing-else-watch-these shows. As a bonus, we’ve included regional favorites that you wouldn’t want to miss.
To say that the streaming space has blown up in the last five years is an understatement. Especially in India, where more than 35 OTT services, including American platforms Netflix and Amazon, are scrambling to get subscribers for their shows. Though Netflix and Amazon, with their original content that caters to a global audience, are still the most popular, there’s growing competition from local Indian services like ZEE5, VOOT, Eros Now, and ALTBalaji.
In 2019, Netflix had five new original series and eight original films produced in India. For 2020, the streaming service has lined up a number of high profile projects that include horror zombie series Betaal (produced by Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment); Mai, a female-centric drama, (produced by Anushka Sharma), urban drama Bombay Begums centered around a group of women, written and directed by Alankrita Shrivastava (of Lipstick Under My Burkha fame), and comedy-drama Messy, created by and starring Indian-American actor, Ravi Patel, among others. Not to be outdone, Amazon Prime released its 2020 line-up that includes The Last Hour, a crime thriller produced by Oscar winning director Asif Kapadia, starring Sanjay Kapoor; Bandish Bandits, a musical love story starring Naseeruddin Shah; and Dilli, a political thriller with Saif Ali Khan and Dimple Kapadia in lead roles, among other shows.
But while you wait, there’s much to catch up on. Here are some of the most popular shows on streaming right now for your viewing pleasure.
On Amazon Prime:
Setting the bar high for quality content is the Amazon original, Made in Heaven. Created by Zoya Akhtar (Gully Boy) and Reema Kagti (Gold), the 9-episode web series debuted on Prime in March 2019 and immediately made an impact. The series follows the personal and professional upheavals of Tara (Sobhita Dhulipala) and Karan (Arjun Mathur)—friends who run a wedding planning business in Delhi. Through the stories of their clients, we get to sneak a peek into the lives of seemingly normal folks who are dealing with, or are subject to, issues like ageism (a lovely cameo by Deepti Naval playing a 60-plus woman who marries against her children’s wishes) and dowry (which still exists in modern Indian society). All this set against the glam and glitz of big, fat Indian shaadis. With its line-up of talented directors (Zoya Akhtar, Nitya Mehra who directed Baar Baar Dekho, Umrika helmer Prashant Nair, and Alankrita Shrivastava), astute writing, and anchored by standout performances from its two lead actors, the series is being hailed as India’s best original content ever by critics across the spectrum and has received much love from viewers. Akhtar is reportedly penning the second season, so this would be a good time to catch up with the first installment.
From Made in Heaven’s plush, upper-class Delhi, take a sharp turn to the dusty badlands of Uttar Pradesh, the setting for Karan Anshuman and Puneet Krishna’s Mirzapur. Another winner from the Excel Entertainment stable, this crime thriller is a bloody and messy roller coaster ride that shocks and engages from the get go. Akhandanand Tripathi (a menacing Pankaj Tripathi) is a ruthless don who runs a carpet business that’s a front for his illegal activities. He employs brothers Guddu (Ali Fazal) and Bablu (Vikrant Massey) to take care of his gun-running business much to the chagrin of his son, Munna (a brilliantly maniacal Divyendu Sharma). The ensuing jealousies and rivalries result in mayhem, peppered with predictable gore and gaalis, both served up with aplomb. The series was panned by critics for its overwhelming depiction of violence but proved to be a hit with audiences, becoming one of the most watched shows of 2019. Season 2 is expected to arrive with a bang this year.
The Family Man is for die-hard Manoj Bajpayee fans who don’t see enough of him on the big screen. For this series created by the kings of quirk, Raj Nidimoru and Krishna D.K. (the brains behind Go Goa Gone and Happy Ending), Bajpayee plays Srikant Tiwari, an undercover intelligence officer who must also deal with the day-to-day problems of his middle-class existence. The story meanders a bit, but some of the episodes pack a punch, dealing with issues that are reflective of the current mood in India. Bigoted politicians provoking violence against a certain community, college students being beaten up for not wearing their patriotism on their sleeve, and other similar instances touch a chord with the viewer. Performances by Sharib Hashmi and Priyamani, who plays Bajpayee’s wife Suchi, are especially on point. Sumit Arora’s (Stree) sharp writing elicits a lot of laughs. Combine that with Bajpayee’s stellar acting skills and his ability to say nothing and yet steal a scene, and you have a delectable cocktail of high-tension sequences and funny situations. Season 2 is being shot this year!
Give it a shot:
Afsos: A suicidal man hires a professional killer to finish him off because he fails at it himself, repeatedly. If this premise doesn’t intrigue you, nothing will. Directed by Anubhuti Kashyap (yes, very much related to Anurag Kashyap), this black comedy has some laugh-out-loud moments and is superbly acted by some of the best talent in India that includes Gulshan Devaiah in the lead, Heeba Shah, and Ratnabali Bhattacharya, among others.
Inside Edge (1 and 2): Panned by critics for being overtly sensational, the series was a big hit with fans and there’s talk of a third season too. This was Amazon’s first original series out of India and is centered around a fictional T20 cricket team. Cricket fans will especially enjoy the high-octane action and some fine acting by Richa Chadha, Aamir Bashir, and Siddhant Chaturvedi, among others.
Mind the Malhotras: If comedy’s your jam, this laugh riot starring Mini Mathur and Cyrus Sahukar is exactly what you need. The series is about a married couple who consult a therapist as a preventive measure against the possibility of a divorce. Produced by Dia Mirza, the situations and writing sometimes falter. Strictly “time pass,” as they say.
Breathe: Madhavan plays a father who resorts to desperate measures to save his dying son. Gripping and at times macabre, this one’s an engaging watch. Abhishek Bachchan is all set to headline the second season, with a completely new set of characters and storyline.
Fun, cute, and very millennial, Little Things is centered on a young couple in Mumbai who go through the usual rigors of a live-in and sometimes long-distance relationship. The couple, played by Dhruv Sehgal (Filter Copy) and Mithila Palkar (Karwaan), navigate various challenges that crop up during the course of their relationship, from professional one-upmanship, to dealing with ageing parents, to being attracted to other people while being in a committed relationship. The writing is honest, straightforward, and non-judgmental, allowing both protagonists to come into their own at their own pace. Three seasons of this very charming show are currently streaming on Netflix. It makes for a great weekend watch with the younger members of the family.
One of the most acclaimed Indian series on Netflix, Delhi Crime is based on the investigation that followed the 2012 rape in Delhi, where a young woman was brutalized and gang-raped while travelling in a bus with her male friend. Directed by Canadian director Richie Mehta, the riveting drama garnered praise from critics and audiences alike for its portrayal of the Delhi police force, which was under immense pressure to apprehend the perpetrators of the brutal crime. Ably supported by a fantastic team of actors including Rajesh Tailang and Rasika Dugal, Shefali Shah plays DSP Vartika Chaturvedi, the officer in charge of the investigation, with just the right amount of heft, empathy, and fragility. Watch this one for her.
If you’ve been a fan of the book or the series The Handmaid’s Tale, you will catch on to the similarities with Leila, but Shanker Raman, Pawan Kumar, and Deepa Mehta’s dystopian tale will still manage to make you uncomfortable. The year is 2047 and India is now Aryavarta, a Hindu totalitarian rashtra where children who are “mixed bloods” (of Hindu-Muslim parents) are taken away from their parents and women are second-class citizens subjected to purity tests. Huma Qureshi plays Shalini, whose affluent existence is shattered after her husband is killed and her daughter, a “mixed blood”, is taken away by the powers that be. Shalini embarks on a harrowing journey to find her missing child and all hell breaks loose. The series is a disturbing watch, mainly because the setting is Indian and there’s always that nagging question at the back of one’s mind—what if? What if India is heading this way? The brooding visual palette of the film, coupled with fine performances by Huma and Siddharth, make for compelling drama.
Give it a shot:
Horror buffs, rejoice! Three distinctly different spooky stories will scare the living daylights out of you. Fans of the glorious Radhika Apte will love Ghoul. After Sacred Games and Lust Stories, Apte takes center stage as Nida Rahman, a military officer on a covert mission to interrogate a dreaded terrorist. The twist? It is set in a dystopian society and said terrorist ... we won’t reveal more! You’ve got to watch it to believe it.
Dibakar Banerjee, Karan Johar, Anurag Kashyap, and Zoya Akhtar are back with their latest anthology of stories, Ghost Stories. Their Lust Stories and Bombay Talkies wowed critics, but this one falls short of both drama and the scares. Watch it if you are a fan of one or all four directors.
Set in picturesque Bardez, Goa, Typewriter is Sujoy Ghosh’s latest directorial for Netflix, featuring three adorable kids who are also wannabe ghostbusters. They are looking for the ghost that resides in a haunted villa and in the course of their adventures, things get really, really serious. Typewriter has a Secret Seven, Famous Five vibe to it. Don’t watch it alone!
If you loved Season 1 of Sacred Games, you may feel a bit let down by the second season. The story line goes awry more than once. Also, the first season’s tense, pulsating rhythm is less in evidence here. Plus, there’s too much Pankaj Tripathi in everything, everywhere. Watch it if only to see how it all ends.
Baisakhi Roy is a Toronto-based writer and editor who loves to write about ordinary people and their extraordinary stories. A lifelong fan of Hindi movies, she cohosts KhabardaarPodcast, a weekly podcast on all things Bollywood.
OTHER NOTABLE SHOWS ON STREAMING PLATFORMS:
Out of Love
Though there may be a dearth of limited series in various Indian languages, some of the best films from all over India are currently streaming on both Amazon and Netflix. Catch them before they are gone!
• Helen: A nail-biting thriller starring Anna Ben (of Kumbalangi Nights) and Aju Varghese, this is a moving survival drama with some top-notch performances.
• Virus: No time like the present to watch this one, when panic around the coronavirus is flying hard and fast. Set in the backdrop of the 2018 Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala, this tale about a group of doctors trying to get to the source of the outbreak is part thriller, part social commentary. Plus a who’s who of the Malayalam film industry including Parvathy Thiruvothu, Tovino Thomas, and Revathy star in this must-watch film.
• Jallikattu: Lijo Jose Pellissery’s frenzied tale of a bull gone amok and the entire menfolk in the village trying to hunt it down, created a stir at major film festivals around the world last year. And while you are at it, also catch Pellisery’s Ee.Ma.Yau, a hilarious satire on death set in beautiful, coastal Ernakulam. Malayalam film at its best!
• Kumbalangi Nights: This intricate family drama is Madhu C. Narayanan’s directorial debut, which makes it doubly impressive. Set on a small island near Kochi, this family drama is about love and loss and what it means to be a man. Malayalam films are all about mood, nuance, and delicacy. Take in the lush beauty of gorgeous Kerala while savoring this beauty of a film.
OTHER NOTABLE SHOWS ON STREAMING PLATFORMS:
• Asuran: If you enjoyed the cinematic delight that was Vada Chennai, then you will definitely savor some of the brilliant sequences and performances in director Vetrimaaran’s latest saga. The director reunites with the enigmatic Dhanush for this story of a farmer trying to protect his son who has murdered an upper-caste landlord. The plot is based on the Kilvenmani massacre of 1968 when Dalit laborers in Tamil Nadu were murdered by upper caste landlords.
• Irandam Ulagaporin Kadaisi Gundu: Another movie that tackles class and caste, this directorial debut by Athiyan Athirai has all the elements of an entertainer—comedy, thrills, and romance—with a sharp social message about societal inequality. The film’s story, though fictional, is inspired by true events from, wait for it ... World War II!
• Peranbu: Tamil cinema is not all blood, gore, and thrills. Director Ram tells a moving story of a single father and his daughter with cerebral palsy. Starring the ever reliable Mammootty, this film is a visual delight and a balm for the soul.
Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya: Hailed by critics as the best comedy-thriller to come out of the Telugu film industry in decades, this Swaroop RSJ directorial follows the story of a detective based in Nellore who unexpectedly courts danger after discovering a dead body. Starring Naveen Polishetty (of YouTube’s AIB fame) and Shruti Sharma, this is an absolute fun ride!
Brochevarevarura: It’s raining comedies in Telugu cinema! This quirky kidnap drama has been praised for its natural performances and taut story line and has made it to many Best Film lists last year. Written and directed by Vivek Athreya, it stars Sree Vishnu (from the 2013 hit Prema Ishq Kaadhal) and Nivetha Thomas among others.
Other notable films available on Amazon Prime include Kannada films Gantumoote (a coming-of-age film from the female perspective), Katha Sangama (an anthology of 7 short stories), and Kavaludaari (a pacy, investigative thriller). Indian National Award-winning Assamese film Village Rockstars, by self-taught filmmaker Rima Das, is another hidden treasure.
Professor Shanku o El Dorado
Ghawre Baire Aaj
Netflix unfortunately doesn’t have an exhaustive collection like Amazon, but sample these gems that are currently streaming:
KD Engira Karuppudurai
Bulbul Can Sing
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