Directors: Ram Madhvani, Sandeep Modi and Vinod Rawat
Cast: Sushmita Sen, Chandrachur Singh, Sikander Kher and others
Sushmita Sen has been working for almost as long as I have been alive on the earth and I have harboured a quiet affection for her all through this time. I liked her for how stunning she looked as she taught chemistry to Shah Rukh Khan, and when she danced in a water fountain before Nora Fatehi hijacked her song. But I really admired her for her real-life personality, a woman who says and does just the right things even off camera.
Watch the trailer for Aarya:
However, try as hard as I might, I cannot remember if I ever appreciated her for her acting chops. With scores of films to her credit, beginning from 1996’s Dastak to Nirbaak five years ago, not one stands out as a memorable performance. But now, Sushmita has got herself the starring role in Disney+ Hostar’s latest series, Aarya. With nine hours’ worth of screen time at her disposal, Sushmita got the opportunity to wring out every bit of talent at her disposal. And she did just that.
Sushmita stars in and as Aarya, the drug dealer’s wife who takes on her husband’s (Chandrachur Singh) business after he suffers a horrible attack. The reins of the job fall in her manicured hands as she struggles through the muck of violence, blackmail, lies and treachery to keep her three kids safe. It could be a window into the life of Skyler White after the credits rolled on Breaking Bad but our desi show’s heroine is just too righteous and not half as apathetic.
Aarya must navigate through the mess that are the Russian mafia, drug kingpins, missing stashes of heroin and drug kingpins hunting for missing stashes of heroin. All this chaos falls on her head due the reckless ways of the men in her family. She is left cleaning up after them, shuffling containers of drugs, making deals with kidnappers, a blackmailer, and the law, just to be able to survive. Every day is another hurdle to leap over, another puzzle to solve, making the show a binge-worthy watch.
Co-directed by Ram Madhvani of Neerja fame, Sandeep Modi and Vinod Rawat, the series rarely indulges in empty flourishes. There are a dozen characters to keep a tab on, and almost all get to be more than furniture pieces in the story that stays faithful to the protagonist. The son is falling for a junkie, the daughter is looking for a father in all the wrong places and the youngest one’s trauma keeps haunting him. The investigating cop is hiding his boyfriend from the world, the business partner is falling deeper into the hole of addiction and even the muscle gets a redemptive arc.
However, there is a big room for improvement and still a long road to perfection. The dialogues rarely sound genuine. The entire season, the characters, their families are set in Rajasthan but save the initial ‘khamba ghanis’, you would not be able to make out the difference between these people and your daily Mumbaikars.
And even finding that sweet spot between drama and melodrama seems to be a tough job for the trinity of directors. When a tragedy befalls the family, everything unfolds to the perfect beats—the buildup, the revelation and the shock. However, all the hard work is thrown out of the window in the very next scene. Someone dramatically falls into the pool, a person tears down the wall art, and yet another stuffs a laddoo in their mouths while ugly crying ensues. It’s cringeworthy and a disappointment considering all that preceded it.
Aarya’s beginning and a few parts in the middle can be a struggle to sit through but once you cross over the third episode barrier, things get exciting. Aarya must think on her feet, come up with special solutions to her very peculiar problems. At first, she rolls around in her circumstances like a tumbleweed but later learns to take control, surprises you and herself with how she gets out of a sticky situation. She finds a way to get the police off her tail, sets her one enemy on another, and finally gets her claws out.
Sushmita benefits a lot with Aarya being written as a gentle, modern woman on the cusp of power. She adds her own flair to the role, calling people ‘baccha’ and ‘jaan’ as she so often does in real life as well. Thankfully for her, it fits Aarya rather well. However, it is still a challenge for her to get the deep sorrow of a loved one’s death across the screen. The wailing never seems natural or convincing and ends up quite comical when you add ladoos to the mix.
The whodunnit part of the mystery is not difficult to solve. Chances are, by the end of episode 1, you would have already decoded a big part of the puzzle. However, tinier mysteries keep popping up through the course of the nine episodes and the final, boss level reveal is the one to look forward to.
Aarya makes for an easy, binge-able watch that might test your patience here and there—they do show someone running up the entire staircase rather than cutting to the next scene. But persevere, and ye shall find yourself a thriller you want to stay with till the end.
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