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Saturday, December 2, 2023

16 Binge-Worthy Indian & South-Asian Digital Content From 2020

For quite some time now, the digital space has slowly emerged as a major entity in the Indian film and television industry.

However, with the coronavirus outbreak, digital streaming platforms have proven to be a lifeline for entertainment consumption.

As such, the big screen experience became domesticated and some interesting South-Asian films and series have emerged in the digital spaces.

In particular, the ‘anthology’ style of storytelling has been quite prominent throughout the year and such movies are fascinating to watch as they convey compelling narratives within a short span of time.

Filme Shilmy selects 16 various South-Asian films (streamed directly onto the OTT platform) and web series from 2020, that is worth streaming before the year ends. 

Scam 1992: Sony LIV, Series

“Ishq Hai, Toh Risk Hai,” as the saying goes in this series. Jai and Hansal Mehta’s Scam 1992 is adapted from journalist Sucheta Dalal and Debashish Basu’s book – The Scam: Who Won, who Lost, who Got Away.

It is one of the biggest successes of this year as it chronicles the life of Harshad Mehta, a stockbroker who took the stock market to heights and catastrophic downfall. Centralised on a Gujarati character, it steers away from any stereotypical representations.

An engaging watch which is made in a sensitive, slick and intense watch, which presents an underdog story gone wrong. Even though the central character is questionable, it is presented in a humanised way.

The series stars Pratik Gandhi, Sharib Hashmi, Shreya Dhanwanthary, Hemant Kher and Nikhil Dwivedi in lead roles.

Churails: ZEE5, Series

Asim Abbasi’s Churails is the first original Pakistani series to be launching on ZEE5, the largest streaming platform for South Asians across the globe.

It follows the story of four self-proclaimed ‘Churails’ (meaning witches) who unite to break some stereotypes and challenge the hypocrisy of patriarchal societies.

As such, these courageous women pull on multicoloured hijabs to hand out retribution to the male of the species, breaking free from all burdens of society.

The series is brave and a trailblazer which breaks the glass ceiling for Pakistani entertainment. It is among 2020’s best South-Asian series.

Masaba Masaba: Netflix, Series

Masaba Masaba came as quite a pleasant surprise. Initially, it seemed like it would be a self-congratulatory documentary series or even a Kardashian-esque one, drenching in over-the-top drama.

However, turns out that the is quite an innovative and endearing/relatable watch. The series fuses elements of fiction and non-fiction and presented compellingly. Popular fashion designer, Masaba Gupta’s life is very fascinating as it is.

The series gives you a sneak peek into the contrasting lives she lives – from the fancy dos she attends with her celebrity friends to moments she is crying into a bottle of wine on the floor of her apartment, Masaba is as real as it gets.

Furthermore, we get an insight into her dynamic relationship with mother Neena Gupta. There also other social and rampant issues (in entertainment) which the series touches on. Definitely worth the stream!

Dil Bechara: Disney+ Hotstar, Original Film

Dil Bechara is heartbreaking as it marks Sushant Singh Rajput’s ultimate on-screen appearance.

Adapted from The Fault In Our Stars, the film marks the directorial debut of casting director Mukesh Chhabra as well as Sanjana Sanghi’s first full-fledged role as the lead.

The film narrates the story of two terminally ill individuals and how they find love, positivity and strength from each other. It is an absolute tearjerker but yet an important movie.

Whilst living in the pandemic, this poignant watch teaches us the essence of life and how being ‘okay’ in certain circumstances is all you need in life.

With a Woody Allen feel to it, the music of AR Rahman will surely stir your soul and encourage you to grab life by the horns.

Putham Pudhu Kaalai: Amazon Prime Video, Original Film

Putham Pudhu Kaalai is an anthology that brings together 5 of the most celebrated directors in Tamil cinema – Sudha Kongara, Gautham Menon, Suhasini Mani Ratnam, Rajiv Menon, and Karthik Subbaraj.

These feature various stories of love, new beginnings, second chances and a glimmer of hope – all depicted and filmed during the times of the COVID-19 lockdown.

Reuniting some wonderful actors from South-Indian cinema, this trailblazing movie sets a very positive tone, depicted in a very poetic and visually aesthetic way.

The film is also a testament that no matter how catastrophic a situation, nothing can ever act as a barricade to creativity.

Paatal Lok: Amazon Prime Video, Series

Neo-noir series Paatal Lok, without a shadow of a doubt, is controversial. But one cannot deny that cinematically, this Anushka and Karnesh Sharma backed project is a cinematic masterpiece.

This Amazon Prime Video show is an investigative thriller in essence that redefines the police procedural on its head.

The series is set in amidst the backdrop of the ruthless of society, socio-economic divisions that divide inhabitants of the same country into different shades of oppression as the ones inflicting it.

It further exhibits how those are tolerating it as well as the ones silently observe it.

It is also a narrated through the eyes of a grey cop (played by Jaideep Ahlawat) who tries to reach way beyond his means and a father, desperately searching for his validation in his teenage son.

Aarya: Disney+ Hotstar, Series

Sushmita Sen is a name that is synonymous with beauty, grace and formidability. Ram Madhvani’s Hotstar series Aarya is Sen’s comeback and digital debut… And what a series it is.

Adapted from based the Dutch drama series Penoza, it’s a compelling story of a family, friends, foes and police in the Indian drug industry.

While one partner (Chandrachur Singh) wants to leave, the others want a bigger slice of pie. In the chaos that ensues, it’s difficult to distinguish between a friend and a foe. Can the mother of three Aarya (Sushmita Sen) rise to the occasion?

Every episode presents a new and unexpected twist and one empathises Aarya’s character. Whilst she is aware and intelligent, she is equally vulnerable and protective of her family.

Bulbbul: Netflix, Original Film

Anushka and Karnesh Sharma have really emerged triumphant as producers this year. After Paatal Lok, Clean Slate Productions’ Bulbbul is another gripping and gritty watch.

Marking the directorial debut of writer Anvita Dutt, this hard-hitting fantasy is set amidst the backdrop of 1880’s Bengal presidency. It might not be ‘horror’ but the events which occur are no less than horrific.

A child bride grows up to be an enigmatic woman (played by Tripti Dimri) presiding over her household, harbouring a painful past as supernatural murders of men plague her village.

Like Anushka’s Pari, this too presents a dark fairy-tale setting which highlights several rampant issues including misogyny, domestic violence, rape and much more. 

Chintu Ka Birthday: ZEE5, Original Film

During the US invasion of Iraq, some illegal migrants are waiting to get back home to India.

As one such family prepares to celebrate the 6th birthday of their youngest member Chintu (Vedant Chibber), their kind-hearted Iraqi landlord lends them a helping hand.

Over the course of a quaintly memorable day, Chintu will witness his stubborn optimist father defy falling bombs, American soldiers, power cuts and the prospect of losing his freedom to try and keep his promise to his son.

This Satyanshu and Devyanshu directorial is intense, poignant and mildly funny all at the same time. A true masterpiece.

Khuda Haafiz: Disney+ Hotstar, Original Film

Vidyut Jammwal has been seen quite prominently in 2020 and that too with roles which are different from what we’ve seen of him before.

One such character is his in Faruk Kabir’s Khuda Haafiz. Rather than playing an all-knowing action hero, here he plays a concerned and vulnerable husband who will stop at no cost to rescue his wife.

A newly married couple’s life falls in jeopardy when the wife gets kidnapped and sold to the vicious flesh trade in Noman. 

An intense watch which offers plenty of action, an intriguing narrative, romance which is compelling and in short – entertainment. It’s one of the finer Bollywood films to premiere on Hotstar this year.

Mirzapur 2: Amazon Prime Video, Series

The first season of Excel Entertainment’s Mirzapur left us all shaken up and at the edge of our seats. It’s been a two-year wait for the second instalment and definitely been worth it.

This season also takes us to a land beyond Mirzapur, a place which has its own set of violent and powerful families running various illegal businesses.

Female characters of the series – especially Beena Tripathi (Rasika Dugal) have become bolder and more complex. They will not hesitate in using any means to achieve their goals.

However, who will ultimately win? Is there anyone left to challenge the Tripathis? The canvas gets bigger this season, but the rules remain the same – without spilling blood you won’t survive here!

Panchayat: Amazon Prime Video, Series

Many cinematic adaptations of Indian villages nowadays are drenched in serious and intense social commentary. However, Panchayat is a breath of fresh air and a real entertainer.

Produced by The Viral Fever, the series chronicles the life of engineering graduate (played by Jitendra Kumar) who joins as a Panchayat secretary in a remote village Phulera of Uttar Pradesh due to lack of better job options.

Rather than showing villages as down and trodden, it paints a progressive image which encourages change and success in a steady fashion.

The humour is witty and so subtly done, that even the most ordinary scene will make you chuckle. Plus, the fantastic cast consisting of Raghubir Yadav, Neena Gupta, and Biswapati Sarkar, make you admire this gem even more.

Bandish Bandits: Amazon Prime Video, Series

As we’ve prominently seen crime-dramas take centre stage on the digital space, Bandish Bandits is a breath of fresh air, where Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s music almost plays an instrumental character in it.

It follows the story of Radhe (Ritwik Bhowmik) and Tamanna (Shreya Chaudhry). Radhe is a singing prodigy determined to follow in the classical footsteps of his grandfather.

Tamanna is a rising pop sensation desperate to become India’s first international pop star. Radhe’s world is turned upside down when he falls in love with Tamanna.

Torn between helping her achieve superstardom and staying true to his own music and his family’s legacy, will he succeed in juggling both at the risk of losing everything he has?

It only took a couple of episodes to get enthralled by the world of classical music that this series created. A compelling musical and visual treat!

Mainkar Chipai: ZEE5, Short Film

Directed by internationally acclaimed young filmmaker Abrar Athar, the short film (also ZEE5’s first Bangladeshi original) is a situational thriller and dark comedy starring Afran Nisho, Sariful Raz and Shamol Mawla.

The movie showcases Afran Nisho in an entirely new avatar as he drags Sariful Razz, an addict, and Shamol Mawla, a peddler, into a ‘Mainkar Chipay‘ situation.

Shot in a minimalist format, the film was completed in just four days across four locations during the lockdown, adhering to all the necessary guidelines.

Apart from having an interesting script and extremely quirky characters, the film has been given a unique treatment using camera lenses from the ‘60s to create an indie retro look.

Unpaused: Amazon Prime Video, Original Film

Following Putham Pudhu Kaalai, Amazon Prime Video offers another anthology film Unpaused (in Hindi) which exhibits COVID-19 stories and the struggles people have gone through.

Uniting five visionary filmmakers like Nikkhil Advani, Avinash Arun, Tannishtha Chatterjee Raj & Krishna DK and Nitya Mehra, it present narratives which span over various social strata.

As such, it delves into different themes such as mental health, sexual harassment, class disparity and cyber-relationships. 

Quite an intriguing selection characters and stories, it also has a fabulous cast lineup consisting of Ratna Pathak Shah, Saiyami Kher, Gulshan Devaiah, Richa Chadha, Sumeet Vyas and Abhishek Banerjee, amongst others. 

Paava Kadhaigal: Netflix, Original Film

After creating trailblazing anthology works Lust Stories, RSVP Movies backs a Tamil anthology titled Paava Kadhaigal (translated as ‘sin stories), which is a thought-provoking and hard-hitting watch.

The film consists of four stories on caste, honour, religious and gender disparity documenting the most brutal killings and makes you question humanity itself. 

It unites some great South-Indian filmmakers including Sudha Kongara, Vignesh Shivan, Gautham Vasudev Menon and Vetrimaaran. 

Plus, some talented actors are also in the film especially names like Kalidas Jayaram, Kalki Koechlin, Anjali, Prakash Raj and Simran, to name a few.

Undoubtedly, it’s a grim venture but it also brings to light some deep-rooted issues which have been on-going in society for a very long time. 

Special Mention – AK Vs Ak: Netflix, Original Film

Vikramaditya Motwane’s AK Vs AK is a genre-defining piece of cinema. It’s always fascinating to observe reel colliding with real and this does that very well. It’s edgy, darkly tongue-in-cheek thrilling & so authentic. 

The movie is so bizarre yet believable, that it feels like a Black Mirror, in which good and evil come vis-a-vis again in AK vs AK. The reality of the film makes it all the more captivating and scary, during which it also addresses all relevant filmy topics.

After a public spat with a movie star (Anil Kapoor), a disgraced director (Anurag Kashyap) retaliates by kidnapping the actor’s daughter, filming the search for her in real-time.

It is such a brave and trailblazing work, which MUST be streamed!

Overall, there have been several releases throughout the pandemic period and these are just a few of our picks.

Films like Putham Pudhu Kaalai, Mainkar Chipai and Unpaused which were created and depicted on  COVID-19 and the impact of lockdown, shows how the creative industry can flexibly adapt to the changing circumstances.

Plus, such stories will be seen in posterity and how cinema was created even at a period of global calamity.

We cannot forget some other fantastic works that deserve to be binged, such as Jamtara (series on Netflix), Lootcase (film on Disney+ Hotstar), Gunjan Saxena (film on Netflix), Gulabo Sitabo (film on Amazon Prime Video), Special Ops (series on Disney+ Hotstar), Ludo (film on Netflix), Four More Shots Please! Season 2 (series on Amazon Prime Video), Asur (series on Voot Select), Raat Akeli Hai (film on Netflix) and many more.

Whilst this year has been catastrophic, one can only hope that 2021 brings better circumstances for one and all. 

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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