If it was any comfort to the beleaguered Hindi film industry, which was assailed by under-performing productions and heavy competition from Tamil, Kannada and Telugu cinema, fiction on streaming platforms didn’t have a smooth 2022 either.
Alongside new shows that ended on the inevitable cliff-hanger were second and third seasons, with threats of many more to come. The law of diminishing returns caught up most of these ventures, with a couple of exceptions – the rural fish-out-of-water comedy Panchayat (Amazon Prime Video), and Masaba Masaba (Netflix), about the fictionalised experiences of fashion designer Masaba Gupta.
As the wizard Gandalf correctly said in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” Here are Scroll.in’s picks of the year’s binge-worthy shows that held our attention over several hour-long episodes.
Suzhal – The Vortex (Tamil, Amazon Prime Video)
Tamil writer-directors Pushkar and Gayatri parleyed their filmmaking experience to a riveting show about the secrets of the past colliding with the tensions of the present. Written by the filmmaking couple and directed by Bramma and Anucharan M, Suzhal – The Vortex traces the fallout of a 15-year-old girl’s disappearance. The teenager’s trade unionist father and sister, a tough-talking police officer, her deputy, and an industrialist and his son are the handful of characters caught in a vortex of suspicion and misdirection.
Here’s what Scroll.in said about the impressive production, which boasted of a layered screenplay and excellent performances: “The staging is remarkably dense but always coherent as it moves between inter-connected events and numerous twists. The writing is expansive enough to accommodate the little details that elevate Suzhal many notches above the average police procedural.”
Meme Boys (Tamil, SonyLIV)
Another of the year’s most impressive shows was also in Tamil. Meme Boys, with Rajiv Rajaram and Drishya as creators, Gokul Krishna as showrunner and Arun Koushik as director, is the hilarious chronicle of a bunch of college students rising in revolt against their despotic principal.
Both hyper-local and universal, the beautifully performed series is a “crackpot comedy about restless millennials”… that is best placed to “capture the tragic absurdity of intolerance towards dissent in any form” in present-day India, Scroll.in noted.
Rocket Boys (Hindi, SonyLIV)
The twinned trajectories of pioneers Homi Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai resulted in a captivating show about the hopes and anxieties of the Indian scientific establishment. Rocket Boys, directed by Abhay Pannu and co-written by Pannu and Abhay Koranne, follows Bhabha (Jim Sarbh) and Sarabhai (Ishwak Singh) on their efforts to kickstart a newly independent country’s nuclear energy and space programmes.
The series revivifies an era of scientific temper, tolerance towards dissenting viewpoints, and healthy anti-establishment sentiment. Jim Sarbh and Ishwak Singh “magnificently bring alive the pioneering impulses of their characters”, Scroll.in noted in its review. “Through their proud eyes, a country characterised by hope and enormous, tangible achievement comes into view too.”
Ghar Waapsi (Hindi, Disney+ Hotstar)
Ghar Waapsi emerged from the same space as its peers Panchayat, Sutliyan (Zee5) and Gullak (SonyLIV) – the upper-caste and equal parts aspirational and provincial middle class from Hindi-speaking states such as Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Ghar Wapsi both rehashes and tweaks the formulaic elements associated with Hindi heartland narratives.
A junior product manager at a start-up company in Bengaluru slinks back to his home in Indore with a shameful secret: he has been laid off. Even as Shekhar quietly hunts for a new job, he must deal with his over-bearing but well-meaning family, a renewed encounter with an old flame, and the very meaning of work itself.
The screenplay by Tatsat Pandey and Bharat Misra, based on a concept by Kartik Krishnan, is sensitively attuned to the country’s unemployment crisis as well as the stultifying nature of corporate workplaces. There is also welcome curiosity about Shekhar’s ambivalent feelings about his family and Indore itself. Director Ruchir Arun directs a fine cast which, apart from Vishal Vashishtha, includes Vibha Chibber and Atul Shrivastava as Shekhar’s very relatable parents.
Pet Puraan (Marathi, SonyLIV)
Perhaps only Marathi and Malayali creators can weave fiction out of a thread of an idea. Malayalam writers and directors continue to be focused on films. The nascent Marathi web series space saw Pet Puraan, which memorably expanded on its one-liner: “A child-free couple adopt a frisky dog and a sassy kitten.”
Created and directed by Dnyanesh Zoting and written by him and Digant Patil, Pet Puraan has “situational comedy and fuzzy romantic moments”, Scroll.in noted. Starring Marathi heart-throb Lalit Prabhakar and the ever-dependable Sai Tamhankar, Pet Puraan was the perfect security blanket for an often cruel year.
Modern Love Mumbai (Hindi, Amazon Prime Video)
Two episodes in Modern Love Mumbai, a spin-off from the Amazon Prime Video series Modern Love, made up for the shortcomings of the other four episodes. The chapters on a Kashmiri woman who yearns to ply her bicycle on the four wheelers-only Sealink flyover bridge in Mumbai and an Indian-Chinese woman whose son is dating a vegetarian Gujarati were among the best things on Indian streaming platforms in 2022.
Fatima Sana Shaikh is in crackling form in Shonali Bose’s Raat Rani, written by Nilesh Maniyar and John Belanger. Shaikh’s feisty Lalzari will let nothing stand in her way – her feckless husband who abandons her, the Sealink’s ban on two-wheelers, or her struggle to keep her head above water.
Vishal Bhardwaj’s Mumbai Dragon, co-written with Jyotsna Hariharan, has a terrific performance by Malaysian actor Yeo Yann Yann as Sui, the caretaker of Mumbai’s only Chinese temple and the fierce mother of a son who has the temerity to date a meat-shunning woman.
Unpaused: Naya Safar (Hindi, Amazon Prime Video)
The first Amazon Prime Video series Unpaused from 2020, like its Tamil cousin Putham Pudhu Kaalai, highlighted the early ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic. The sequels to both shows were released within a week of each other in January 2022.
Unpaused: Naya Safar, which tackled “the deaths, unemployment and shredded nerves resulting from enforced confinement”, went beyond “the seemingly compulsive need of fiction creators to be sanguine about a devastating health crisis”, Scroll.in noted in its review. The five-episode series had solid entries and two outstanding episodes.
In Vaikunth, Nagraj Manjule directs, co-writes with Sudhir Kulkarni, and stars in the compelling tale of a Dalit crematorium worker who buries body after body while worrying about his Covid-infected father.
Ayappa KM’s War Room, written by Shubham, stars the redoubtable Geetanjali Kulkarni as a government-run centre in Mumbai that matches coronavirus patients to hospital beds. “One of the few actors who can emote from behind a mask, Geetanjali Kulkarni magnificently carries this slim and yet rich portrait of one of the countless aspects of the pandemic,” Scroll.in said in its review.
Faadu (Hindi, SonyLIV)
Writer Saumya Joshi and director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari crafted one of the year’s late-breaking winners. Faadu, starring Pavail Gulati as an ambitious slumdog and Saiyami Kher as his poetry-loving wife, is “the unhurriedly told story of two young people raised in vastly different environments”, Udita Jhunjhunwala observed in her review for Scroll.in.
The show follows Abhay, a social climber who stoops to conquer, and Manjiri, his life partner and conscience. Written and directed with heart and soul, Faadu is ably steered by Pavail Gulati in the lead role and Abhilash Thapliyal as Abhay’s addict brother.