The Top 5 Hindi Web Shows of 2020
Top 5 Hindi Web Shows of 2020: 2020 has been a terrible year for the cinema industry. This was the year of the unfortunate losses of some of our beloved stars. This will also be remembered as the year we didn’t go to the movie theaters. The cinematic ecstasy, instead, came to our homes, thanks to the various OTT platforms. In these times, the cinematic spirit was arguably upheld the most by the filmmakers who decided to explore the relatively new form of serialized storytelling. Perhaps the greatest achievement of the web show platform was that the consistency of a linear/non-linear narrative of the films was upheld by these web shows with the same sense of invention and interpretation.
In the following list, I re-trace the year to pick the 5 Hindi web shows of 2020, all across various streaming (OTT) platforms, that appealed the most to me. While I might have avoided a lot of them, the mentioned shows appealed the most to me with the magnificence of their execution and their well-structured narratives. The top 3 of them, I proudly declare, are going to be my all-time favorites as well.
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THE GONE GAME | THRILLER | VOOT SELECT
Director: Nikhil Nagesh Bhatt
Entirely shot through the lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Gone Game is a sharp throwback to the initial days of our home quarantine period- it handles its tightly thrilling plot of a man who plots his death by the coronavirus, with the sharpness of a screen thriller and warmth of a family drama. Sure it isn’t as intelligent as the other genre counterparts, but the occasional compasses of daftness work immensely. The miniseries, which runs for less than 2 hours, has great performances from an ensemble, particularly by the fantastic Arjun Mathur and the attractive Shweta Tripathi.
There are problematic keys here and there, and the show’s unwillingness to arrive at a resolution in a concise running time only so that the progression is set up is frustrating but despite the blemishes, it succeeds to become an immersively dramatic thriller that unravels mostly on video calls and keeps us guessing from one episode to the next. Several character motivations are designed for shock value but you are engaged throughout because Ayesha Syed, who has written the screenplay, doesn’t use the least bit of manipulation or melodrama. The dark blues and grays of Piyush Puty’s interesting cinematography set up the mood of the show.
Watch The Gone Game online on Voot Select
5. MIRZAPUR SEASON 2 | CRIME DRAMA| AMAZON PRIME VIDEO
Director- Karan Anshuman, Gurmeet Singh, Mihir Desai
The world that has been created by the creators of the popular Amazon Prime Video web series ‘Mirzapur‘, is not just creatively rooted with authenticity but also has a fantastic air of fantasy going with it. I was not a fan of stylized action which season 1 presented, but it worked systematically due to the highly talented people in the star-cast. It ended with a pursuit of revenge, most obviously with a promise of kicking in the violent circle of the blood being spilled and ambitions being revealed. Season 2 is a better deal, let me report because it ditches the sitcom-tone which was the major problem the first time around. It makes more effort in being something quieter, a version of itself that doesn’t Bollywood-ize things unnecessarily but reverses the Bollywood sensibilities.
The show has consistent performances from all over, from old and new players alike. I enjoyed the rustic Munna Tripathi (Divyendu Sharma), the composed ruler Kaleen Bhaiya (Pankaj Tripathi, of course), and the vulnerable monster Guddu Pandit (Ali Fazl). Vijay Varma in a suitable double role seemed like a sketchy addition only so that the UP drama extends to Bihar, but he is excellent in portraying the raunchy crime prince. But this time the women were the best revelations: Rasika Duggal undeniably delivers the finest performance as the revenge-seeking goddess Beena Bhabhi, and I loved Shweta Tripathi’s dark, edgy Golu Pandit (Shweta Tripathi). I was entertained by the slow-burning feminism of Madhuri Yadav (A moving Isha Talwar).
Even the minor keys such as the widow Shabnam, the prostitute Zarina and the humble Dimpy Pandit have their curves this time, if not necessarily winning ones. The masterful beginning morphs into incoherent proceedings and then becomes mass, and the cheesily irrelevant proceedings towards the end morph into a masterful climax. Perhaps the appeal of Mirzapur is that its flaws make it inherently likable.
Watch Mirzapur S2 online on Amazon Prime Video
4. JL50 | SCIENCE FICTION| SONY LIV
Director- Shailender Vyas
JL50 succeeds in becoming perhaps India’s more original offering in the genre of science fiction. The miniseries truly goes to the sole root of time-traveling dynamics and the concept of science drama to root its fiction into a palatable reality. About a plane which took off in 1984 from Calcutta and crashed in 2019 in a north-eastern village called Lava, it is not just a wholly satisfying film about scientific curiosity but also serves as the ode to the city it’s based upon: through alternating timelines between ‘Calcutta’ and ‘Kolkata’ it also ponders upon existential complexities. It also manages to be moving enough to have you invested through its two-hour running time.
The show benefits enormously from the cinematography by Bradley Stuckel because the world-building he does isn’t just designed for magnificence but also for the atmosphere of a truly pulpy thriller that manages to be more unpredictable than wholly gripping. Abhay Deol, Ritika Anand, and Rajesh Sharma are in wonderful form, but it was disheartening to see Pankaj Kapur and Piyush Mishra- two of the finest actors working in the star cast, to succumb to their weakly written characters. It’s disappointing because they are the film’s most interesting characters. I understand that the ‘writerliness’ of the screenplay might allude to the actual tone the settings possess, I don’t get why would they utilize that in a series that’s made in 2020. Nevertheless, as a genre offering it’s not just a decent watch but also understands the spectrum needs to be cinematic to be fully enjoyable. That makes it one of the best Hindi web shows of 2020.
Watch JL50 on Sony Liv
3. PAATAL LOK | POLITICAL THRILLER | AMAZON PRIME VIDEO
Director- Prosit Roy, Avinash Arun
The intrigue that you feel while watching Prosit Roy and Avinash Arun’s Amazon series Paatal Lok works immensely and quite in an interesting manner, not just for what it presents but more for the sense of inhabitance it gets into through what it might not have presented. But there are few things apolitical that the writers have not pointed at. There is a compelling sense of underdog story and a harrowing portrayal of the life of a politician’s hitman, and the concept of belief that can stand against someone, sometimes. It is powerful not because it’s aware that it is liberal, it is powerful because it goes to great depth and nuance to explicate that. The series works as a critique of the present government and doesn’t play safe but with dialogue that is always suggestive and never obvious in theme, it is always intrepid and impregnable.
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As the underdog inspector Hathiram Chaudhary, Jaideep Ahlawat channels the anger, frustration, and masculine gaze of a tired man working under an unforgiving system, quite excellently. Abhishek Banerjee delivers a strong performance as Hathora Tyagi, a sadistic criminal with his strong faith in what he considers. Neeraj Kabi shines as an arrogant liberal journalist with a ‘privilege problem’. These are just a few mentions in a perfectly acted ensemble cast, that syncs wonderfully with an enjoyably tense screenplay. So the third place of the top 5 Hindi web shows of 2020.
Watch Paatal Lok online on Prime Video
2. SCAM 1992 | DRAMA| SONY LIV
Director- Hansal Mehta
More than anything else, Harshad Mehta’s Scam 1992 is a masterclass in performative productiveness: from the first man in the picture, Sharad Bellary (played by Sharib Hashmi), to the last, Ram Jethmalani (played by Mithilesh Chaturvedi), everyone is superbly in sync with the narrative atmosphere. Of course, the praises being heaped upon Pratik Gandhi for his outstanding turn as Harshad Mehta in the film deserves all the acclaim in the world- I loved the way he mixed the unapologetic dialogue-baazi with his efficiency of a more subtle, restrained acting. I also loved Shreya Dhanwantary, Anant Mahadevan, and Rajat Kapoor in their respective characters.
What I found remarkable about the show was the entertaining yet investigative way in which Dalal street, the stock market, and the Indian economy, in particular, work. With a political filmmaker like Hansal Mehta, you would expect a pointed finger at the workings of the government. The show remains surprisingly apolitical, and the little politics it has is suggestive. But you see why: this is the story of a man who loves taking a risk and loves money, a man who loves the risk he takes. Politics is just a micro aspect of that. Usually, when Hindi cinema takes a line of job, it ruins it with a silly, textbook understanding of the subject: if it takes space science, it would show scientists dancing in the office and partying. Scam 1992 has a lot of delightful humor, and mainstream, mass entertainment but the understanding of the material is really in-depth, considering the practical conversation the characters share, and that it has been adapted from Sucheta and Debashis’s novel ‘The Scam’.
The series has been elegantly shot: the sepias and yellows drench in the narrative and complement it with sentient timelessness. In the early portions, these colors complement the glory of Mehta in a dark and edgy way, and the same colors work as symbols of sympathy for the Mehta family. The unconventional realness and the carefully executed, marvelous production design recreate the Bombay of the 80s and 90s with an innovative approach. The storytelling is effective and affecting and coupled with brilliant performances it covers up the simplistic way the story has been told.
But however simple it might be as a show, it is a layered biopic. Usually, the leading characters of a traditional biopic show fleshed-out characters with a singular nature, from start to finish. Hansal does something different in this web series. He doesn’t just show the final form, he cultivates a budding character. He shows and tells in a naturalistic style. He also cultivates the fraudulent deal that forms the title and the apparent theme of the show. They combine for a rich and immersive experience that makes intelligent choices. This is an epic that is as complete, and as Gujarati, as it gets. Hence, it gets its deserved place in the top 5 Hindi web shows of 2020.
Watch Scam 1992 on Sony LIV
1. PANCHAYAT | COMEDY DRAMA| AMAZON PRIME VIDEO
Director- Deepak Kumar Mishra
The biggest surprise of 2020, an otherwise terrible year, is that an Indian web show has triumphed over all that I have watched this year till recently. TVF’s Amazon Prime-release Panchayat is a skillfully crafted masterstroke in the series world. Starring Jeetendra Kumar, Neena Gupta, and Rabhubir Yadav in conventional roles in an unconventional setting, this UP village drama has been excellently conceived and it proves that there won’t be a lack of imaginative creativity even in the harshest settings when you have a treasure of talent and creativity.
Crafted with the elegance of a Kelly Reichardt film, the show is a splendidly shot throwback to the old-school shows of DD National which used to air during the 1990s. It inverts Bollywood cliches by using each of them in ways more masterful than expected. The socio-political scenario of rural India has been treated with a lot of humor and subtlety, hence the top position in the top 5 Hindi web shows of 2020.
Watch Panchayat on Prime Video