As the isolation period extends, feast on these delightful new shows on streaming which range from small-town slicks to big city woes.
Panchayat, Amazon Prime Video
In Prime drama Panchayat, director Deepak Kumar Mishra and writer Chandan Kumar create the perfect isolation watch, transporting us to the rural Indian world of Phulera in Uttar Pradesh. Produced by TVF, the comedy-drama follows an average engineering graduate Abhishek (Jitendra Kumar) through his reluctant journey as secretary of a Panchayat office after he misses the popular CAT exam bus. On arrival, he encounters Vikas (Chandan Roy), an office boy, Upapradhan Prahlad Pandey (Faisal Malik) and long-serving Pradhan Brij Bhushan Dubey (Raghuvir Yadav). Although he is currently fronting the office for wife Manju Devi (Neena Gupta), elected on paper (under nari quota), so he could still perform his duties. The quirky innocence of small-town characters wrapped up in simple dilemmas shine through all eight episodes even as the seemingly slick city boy tries to make his presence felt. With some fine performances, heartwarming situations and slow-cooked old charm, you cannot go wrong choosing to binge on this one.
Jamtara – Sabka Number Ayega, Netflix
Jamtara – Sabka Number Ayega sucks you right in with poor young-bloods determined to find their power spot in the world. Writers Trishant Srivastava, Nishank Verma, and director Soumendra Padhi keep it raw, real and intense throughout with some thrilling and chilling moments to keep you hooked. School dropouts, reckless and cut-throat, the unemployed youth of Jamtara (Jharkhand) want to make quick cash which will lead them to a successful future. Leading the pack is Sunny Mondal (Sparsh Shrivastav) who runs a money-spinning phishing scam with older cousin Rocky (Anshuman Pushkar) aided by school friends. Sunny’s partner in crime is Gudiya (Monika Panwar), ambitious with her own agenda. They are the wannabe power couple and run coaching classes together. Standing in the way of their dream and the whole racket, for different reasons, are local corrupt politician Brajesh Bhan (Amit Sial) and Dolly Sahu (Aksha Pardasany), Superintendent of Police. If you can swallow the liberally sprinkled but necessary cuss words, the show is a winner. It depicts a world very much rooted in power and its layered dynamics, depending on which side you are on.
Afsos, Amazon Prime Video
“My life story is so poorly written that I feel like I’ve written it myself.” Failed writer, lover, sibling and son Nakul (Gulshan Devaiah) has only one goal in life – he wants to end it in Afsos. After failing to go through with the act 11 times, he hires a committed assassin Upadhyay (Heeba Shah) to finish the job. After assigning the task, his luck changes dramatically, and Nakul changes his mind. The only hurdle is Upadhyay, who doesn’t like unfinished business. A dark comedy that is wicked and funny. The show’s characters are superbly enacted, irrespective of their length, even though they find themselves in some irreverent and unbelievable situations finely crafted by writers Anirban Dasgupta and Dibya Chatterjee. The only discomforting scene was when his therapist, Shloka (Anjali Patil) hands Nakul a razor knife and provokes him to kill himself. Nevertheless, director Anubhuti Kashyap balances the bustling plot with slick direction and solid attention to detail, keeping it sane, grounded and palatable.
If you are a Karishma Kapoor fan, you will be delighted by her foray into the digital TV world with Mentalhood, a TV show which explores the vagaries of motherhood, female solidarity and modern issues such as bullying, domestic violence, infidelity, homosexuality, and a mother’s guilt. ALTBalaji attempts to woo the family audience with a cleverly adapted Indian version of HBO show Big Little Lies which connects five mothers, Meira (Karisma), Anuja (Sandhya Mridul), Namrata (Shilpa Shukla), Diksha (Shruti Seth) and Priti (Tillotama Shome), who share lives as their children attend the same school. Director Karishma Kohli keeps the tone light, sensitive, and feminine. As a show, it doesn’t reach the high level one would expect despite the taboo topics it explores but nevertheless entertains and conveys some important messages in the process. With its troop of crackling actors and Kapoor’s fine presence, it’s definitely worth a watch.
She suffers from an age old problem: He. A bunch of men write and direct a female story about sexual awakening and do a huge disservice to an important topic. Producer Imtiaz Ali leads this venture, co-writing with screenwriter Divya Johri, jointly directed by Arif Ali and Avinash Das of Anarkali of Arrah fame. Bhumi Pardesi (Aaditi Pohankar), a junior police officer is chosen by Narcotics Bureau officer Jason Fernandez (Vishwas Kini) to play a prostitute in a bid to bring down a drug cartel, fronted by Sasya (Vijay Varma). The protagonist is viewed throughout from an external perspective, which is not the worst part, she rarely takes a solo decision and the little voice she has is mostly muffled by the male energy. Perhaps it is her surroundings or the fact that she is not aware of her own sexuality. She is initially embarrassed by her body, then recognizes its influence and eventually finds her power through it. This is where it becomes problematic because she starts seeing her body as a tool and the only way to get her share of power. Despite the obvious flaws, Aaditi Pohankar lends dignity to Bhumi with a layered, masterful performance. She maps the journey from timid female to an aggressive temptress effectively and smoothly. Vijay Varma is always a surprise package, with many twists to offer. It’s definitely worth a watch for the actors, some of its sparkling moments and the bold territories it travels to.
Hamida Parkar is a freelance journalist and founder-editor of cinemaspotter.com. She writes on cinema, culture, women and social equity.