Screen Time: Thugs, Thrones, and a Trans Queen
As the fall season kicks off, the characters vying for your attention include a beleaguered royal family, couples at odds, a fierce activist, a determined cop, and a notorious smuggler. Sit back and enjoy.
Made in Heaven: Season 2 (Hindi)
Amazon Prime Video
The charismatic and chaotic wedding planners of Made in Heaven, a wedding planning company for the megarich in Delhi, are back! The second season, coming four years after the first season was received with much joy, is also well worth watching, thanks to some nuanced storytelling. Directors Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti are ably supported by Nitya Mehra, Alankrita Srivastava, and others. The second season picks up with Tara Khanna (Sobhita Dhulipala) and Karan Mehra (Arjun Mathur)—best friends and co-owners of Made in Heaven—dealing with their own battles. Khanna is divorcing her husband, Adil (Jim Sarbh), after it’s revealed that she leaked her own sex tape to get Adil (who is involved in a dalliance with Fiaza, Tara’s best friend) to marry her. Meanwhile, Karan, shunned by his mother for being openly gay, is sinking into the murky world of gambling and addiction. Then there are the brides and grooms and their families to deal with. Inter-caste couples fight to retain their identities while salvaging their relationships; star-crossed couples risk it all to give their relationships another chance; a bride deals with an abusive partner; another bride deals with colorism; a lesbian couple yearn for the support of their families. There’s drama galore punctuated by some standout performances, notably by Mona Singh who plays Bulbul Jauhari, an auditor tasked with restoring order to Made in Heaven. She plays her role with elan. The star who burns most brightly this season is Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju, a newbie actor (and real-life medical doctor) who plays Meher, the company’s newly appointed production head and a trans woman. She commands attention in every frame she occupies—vulnerable one moment, tender and self-assured the next.
One is so used to seeing actor Vijay Varma play the bad guy (Darlings, Dahad) that his turn here—as a newly minted cop who finds himself a misfit in the corrupt and testosterone-driven local police station—is a delight to watch. Varma plays Ravi Shankar Tripathi, who is on the brink of putting in his papers when he becomes embroiled in the investigation of acid attack victim Parul Chaturvedi (Shweta Tripathi Sharma). Constantly goaded by a boss who is a bully but an efficient senior inspector (Gopal Datt), Tripathi learns the ropes of policing and makes it his life’s mission to track down Parul’s attacker. Yashpal Sharma plays the toady constable Yadav who knows the art of self-preservation all too well and is Tripathi’s constant support. The series chugs along at a steady pace as it examines the issues of toxic masculinity; the suffocating stereotyping that women face, especially when it comes to expressing their sexuality; the standards they are expected to live up to, and the lines they’re constantly forced to toe. All this makes for a riveting series.
Indian transgender activist Gauri Sawant is a true heroine for the trans community, and this series banks on her incredible story and aura to tell an inspiring tale of grit and perseverance. Sawant, born a boy named Ganesh in Pune, had to leave home at the tender age of 14 after her mother, Sawant’s only supporter, died. Her father refused to accept her. Sawant went on to set up several nonprofits to help and provide counsel to the trans community. It was because of her relentless efforts and activism that the Supreme Court of India recognised transgender as a third gender in 2016. Sushmita Sen carries the incredible burden of portraying this character as truly as possible, and she succeeds. She portrays the feisty Sawant with aplomb. She growls menacingly at a policeman who’s beaten up a fellow trans woman, refuses to back down when the orderlies in a prominent hospital treat the dead body of another trans friend with indignity, and joyously dances on the day of her initiation into the trans community.
Taj: Divided by Blood (Hindi; Urdu)
Touted as the desi Game of Thrones, this pacy period drama has its highs and lows but keeps you hooked, mainly because of the arresting performance by Naseeruddin Shah, who plays the aging Mughal emperor Akbar as he struggles to keep his family and empire together. Shah’s enigmatic eyes coupled with the magical timbre of his voice convey the anguish of a ruler who had it all and is losing all of it too quickly. Contributing to his misery in equal amounts are his three sons—the easily intimidated Daniyal (Shubham Mehra); Murad (Taha Shah), driven by violence and bloodlust; and Salim (Aashim Gulati), who spends his time drinking and womanizing. There’s also the tale of the beauteous Anarkali (Aditi Rao Hydari), who captured Salim’s heart but is also shown to be Daniyal’s biological mother, having been one of Akbar’s concubines herself. The series doesn’t claim to be historically accurate and firmly states that it is a creative dramatization of actual events. The interplay between father and sons is interesting to watch as are the grandly mounted battle scenes. Sandhya Mridul plays Jodhabai with grace. But Shah towers over all as he has all these years.
The Hunt for Veerappan (English; Tamil and Kannada dialogues)
From an activist who inspired change to a thug who inspired fear. Unless you've been cut off from Indian news, chances are you have heard of Veerappan— sandalwood smuggler, elephant poacher, kidnapper, killer, and a thorn in the side of the police forces of the southern Indian states of Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu for over three decades. Selvamani Selvaraj directs this riveting four-part true crime series about the notorious outlaw, interviewing some of his closest confidantes, his wife, his gang members, law enforcement officials, and investigative journalists who covered him extensively at the height of his notoriety. While there is reverence for his leadership and survival skills on the part of his gang members, the ruthless side of him is also a highlight of the superbly shot and edited series. A sharp, concise, and unbiased presentation of the one of the most fascinating criminal minds to exist, this film is a must-watch.
Baisakhi Roy is a culture writer and journalist based in Ontario, Canada. Her work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, Chatelaine, Broadview and CBC. Formerly a reporter with The Indian Express in India, Roy is an avid Bollywood fan and co-hosts the Hindi language podcast KhabardaarPodcast.com. Email: email@example.com
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