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Aranyak (Season 1) Review – Densely plotted thriller manages to deliver without going off the rails

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Aranyak (Season 1) Review: The sleepy town of Shinorah, Himachal Pradesh has a chequered past of a spate of serial killings which had occurred years ago. The local villagers with a mix of naivete and mythological beliefs shift the blame of these killings to a half leopard man who is their resident boogeyman. This sleepy town in the present gets rocked by the death of a young french teenager, whose body is found hanging on a hangman’s noose to a large teak tree.




The investigation soon comes to the attention of new Inspector Angad Malik (Parambrata Chattopadhyay), an uptight and morally righteous police officer who refuses to believe that the murder signifies the return of the half man-half leopard serial killer for obvious scientific reasons, even as the dead body sports claw marks on the neck. Angad is taking over the post for a year, replacing the current Inspector Kasturi Dogra (Raveena Tandon), a headstrong woman who is currently taking a long sabbatical because she wants to give her focus to her family. But when the biggest case of her career comes knocking at the door, she finds that she can’t stay away.

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The difference in styles of investigations of both Malik and Dogra give rise to considerable tension between the two of them. Malik because he is frustrated at the slowness of the proceedings and of Kasturi’s brazen attitude and style of interrogation which mostly consists of hitting and slapping suspects until they squeal.

Aranyak (Season 1) - 2

She in return is frustrated because of his method to follow the rules by the book which won’t work in places like Shinorah, and his unwillingness to involve her in the investigation. As they slowly start to work together begrudging respect and burgeoning friendship blossoms. The convoluted nature of their investigation also comes to light. One that involves a real estate landlord, a drug kingpin, the newly elected MP, the Deputy Commissioner as well as the younger generation of children and young adults. This is topped off by a convoluted plot consisting a supernatural bent along with investigation of the man-leopard.




The convoluted nature of the plot would be enough to scare away any viewer. However, writer Chatradutt Acharya and director Vinay Waikul ensure that the show doesn’t go completely off the rails. When it focuses on the murder as well as the political seedy underbelly of Shinorah, the show shines and it is a treat to watch as the show becomes twistier and twistier, red herrings and new revelations planted at appropriate moments as each episode ends with well-placed cliffhangers.

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The primary reason for that is the editing, which is responsible for giving the illusion of a fast-paced procedural since the beginning. Even as expositions occur throughout the pilot as well as in subsequent episodes, the editing ensures that the story doesn’t stop or slow down. There are points of over-explaining, especially in the final episode, but that comes mostly as the show winds down towards the finish line.

When the show however focuses on the supernatural element is when it falters, not just because of how disbelieving it sounds – the show makes a point to repeatedly accentuate that, but when the final resolution occurs regarding that subplot, it comes out of nowhere, and the action set-pieces succeeding that resembles more of a slasher movie than anything else.




Ashutosh Rana, who plays Mahadev Dogra, ex-police constable and father-in-law to Kasturi, plays the role of a man haunted by the one case he couldn’t solve. Currently living in a weed-induced haze, he finds a new lease in life when the murder occurs and he takes it upon himself to solve the supernatural angle. It’s a smart move by the writers to slowly develop it in the background, as the foreground events slowly build to a crescendo. Like most densely plotted thrillers, the show takes the liberty of relying on coincidences, and while some of them aren’t as egregious, there is one that ties a key backstory of one of our protagonists to the ongoing narrative and it feels shoe-horned.

The positives of the show would be the unusual chemistry between Raveena Tandon’s Kasturi Dogra and Parambrata Chatterjee’s Angad Malik. Tandon’s first foray into web series starts off far rougher than I expected; her accent wasn’t convincing enough and her brazen attitude while decidedly different from anything she has played before, still felt a bit too much. However, she grows into the role as the series progresses, and becomes a compelling character, especially with her interactions with Ashutosh Rana’s Mahadev and Chatterjee’s Angad Malik.

Chatterjee on the other hand is easily the best part of the show, playing a complex character with different layers in his personality. He manages to showcase those with efficiency and finesse. Aranyak (Season 1) thus becomes very much a two-lead story instead of a Raveena Tandon starrer and that is always welcome. Rounding out the ensemble is Zakir Hussain as Manhas, the real estate mogul and drug kingpin with his hands under a lot of pies, and he plays it with just the right amount of menace and sleaze. The other standout is Vishwesh Sharkoli who essays the role of Bunty, the boyfriend of Kasturi’s daughter Nutan, who gets haplessly entangled in this mess. He manages to evoke sympathy for his character without it coming off as cloying. He is still a part of a huge ensemble of character actors, all in service of the plot.

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The character development and character arcs are mostly reserved for the protagonists and to a few of the supporting casts, with the acting prowess of the ensemble carrying the show. It’s also positive that the cinematography is excellent, giving the place of Shinorah a feeling of authenticity and distinction, even as the portrayal of most small-town people coming off as hicks or naive bordering on stupidity is a character trait I would very much like to see dropped.




Aranyak (Season 1) is definitely one of the better offerings of Netflix India (the bar is set so low as it is). But the fact that the show manages to make sense of all of its myriad of threads and deliver on almost all of them, maintaining the thrills and fast-paced nature of the narrative makes Aryanak one of the better shows to come out this year. It leaves the door open for a Season 2, which like most Netflix Originals feels unnecessary, but this is one show I wouldn’t mind seeing return after a year, preferably with the same amount of convolutions of plots but also a complete delivery on all its resolutions.

★★★½

Aranyak (Season 1) is now streaming on Netflix

Trailer

Aranyak (Season 1) Links – IMDb
Aranyak (Season 1) Cast – Anna Ador, Raveena Tandon, Parambrara Chattopadhyay, Ashutosh Rana, Zakir Hussain, Vishwesh Sharkoli

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