Following the success of Sacred Games, Mirzapur and Inside Edge in 2018, the top streaming websites in India filled the internet with at least two to three new web series each month in 2019.
Netflix released Sacred Games season two, Delhi Crime, Bard of Blood, Typewriter, and Leila. Amazon Prime Video had Inside Edge season two, Made in Heaven, Four More Shots Please!, Mind the Malhotras, and The Family Man. Hotstar sprung Criminal Justice, Hostages, City of Dreams, The Office, and Out of Love onto viewers.
Other players such as The Viral Fever, MX Player, AltBalaji, and Zee5 also put out a number of web series, such as Gullak, Coldd Lassi aur Chicken Masala, Kaafir and Thinkistan.
While some series became immensely popular, others sank in an oversaturated market. Nonetheless, they did provide some memorable characters played by actors who seldom get to sink their teeth into such meaty roles in their film work. Here’s a look at 10 most memorable characters from Indian web series in 2019.
Srikant Tiwari, The Family Man
Perhaps Manoj Bajpayee’s most crowd-pleasing role this side of Sardar Khan, The Family Man’s Srikant Tiwari is an Indian intelligence operative who fumbles while trying to keep his family together but is at the top of his game when saving the country. Tiwari, like Harry Tasker in True Lies (1994), hides from his family that he is a spy whose everyday job might just involve him in a shootout in Kashmir. Bajpayee plays Tiwari with a poker face and a wry sense of humour while injecting the character with an Everyman quality.
Moosa, The Family Man
Malayalam actor Neeraj Madhav couldn’t have had a better Hindi debut. The 29-year-old actor is introduced in The Family Man as the timid Moosa, who appears to have been brainwashed into joining the Islamic State. For one half of the series, Madhav’s Moosa is a sympathetic character, coincidentally on the wrong side of the law. But midway, Moosa transforms into something opposite to his earlier self, and Madhav is able to make both versions of himself convincing.
Vartika Chaturvedi, Delhi Crime
Bored, if not annoyed, with the male rogue cops you find every month on the Indian big screen? (Or a token female copy, perhaps?) Here’s Vartika Chaturvedi, played by Shefali Shah, who does not punch villains off the ground or explode into pulpy polemics. Shah brings quiet strength and resolve to Vartika, who leads a team of police personnel investigating the 2012 Delhi gang rape. Vartika is always on the edge as she races against time, but is never shown to be unbelievably super-heroic.
Tara Khanna, Made in Heaven
Unlike Vartika Chaturvedi’s straight-forward heroism, Tara Khanna is a bundle of contradictions. Growing up in suburban Delhi, ambitious Tara (Sobhita Dhulipala) has her eyes set on the high life. She is manipulative enough to trick her affluent boss into marrying her. But Tara is also kind and humane to her clients and co-workers and is the epitome of grit as she manages her small company in the face of numerous problems.
Ramesh Gupta, Made in Heaven
The Amazon Prime Video series has a huge ensemble cast. Apart from the protagonists and recurring characters, there are others who appear for just one episode but leave a mark anyway. Vinay Pathak’s Ramesh Gupta does not have much screen time in the series clocking over seven hours, but his sensitive portrayal of a gay man hiding his sexuality behind a wife and young daughter deserves praise. In a confrontation scene featuring Arjun Mathur near the end of the series, Pathak delivers some of the best acting seen on the web or the big screen in this year in India.
Jeetu, Kota Factory
The Viral Fever’s in-house star Jitendra Kumar could well be the web’s Ayushmann Khurana. Kumar brings an understated charm and likability to his middle-class characters in such series as Pitchers and Permanent Roommates. In Kota Factory, Kumar plays Jeetu bhaiya, a too-good-to-be-true teacher. Kumar delivers Jeetu’s monologues on competition and life with passion and charisma.
The cast playing the family of four in the five-episode Gullak deserves all the awards. Jameel Khan, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Vaibhav Raj Gupta and Harsh Mayar’s performances as the father, mother, and two sons respectively are incomplete without each other. Each actor is individually terrific too, with the standout character being Kulkarni’s Mummy, who switches from sarcastic to sweet within seconds as she keeps her family together day after day.
Aditya Sharma, Criminal Justice
Vikrant Massey earned mini-star status following his performance as Bablu, the gangster-with-brains in Mirzapur season one in 2018. In Criminal Justice, the comparatively under-seen but solid adaptation of the British series of the same name, Massey has a meatier role. His Aditya is a cab driver and boy-next-door who becomes the prime accused in the murder of an affluent woman. Aditya is jailed for months, during which he is slowly transformed into a hardened inmate.
Mustafa, Criminal Justice
The original series is so well-written and the Hindi adaptation so well done that it’s difficult to get any characters wrong. Jackie Shroff is a revelation as Mustafa, an aged ganglord locked up in the same prison as Aditya. This is perhaps Shroff’s best recent role since the Tamil cult neo-noir Aaranya Kandam (2011). As the prison’s de facto godfather and Aditya’s mentor, Mustafa is gruff and intimidating but also wily and mischievous. Much of Mustafa’s charm and personality comes from Shroff infusing his own star mannerisms into the character.
Guruji, Sacred Games
Pankaj Tripathi is often referred to as saintly by his colleagues and co-actors in interviews. The second season of Sacred Games has Tripathi at his most saintly and sinister. Tripathi’s Guruji is an Osho-like cult leader who speaks softly and calmly in riddles. Beneath his benign exterior is a mad man devoted to ending the world in an apocalyptic nuclear attack, the roots of which go back to an imagined injustice meted out to his father. Guruji is a most scary character, and the way Tripathi makes him eerily real is superb.