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 theatres. 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 favourites as well.
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UNDEKHI| CRIME DRAMA| SONY LIV
Director- Ashish R Shukla
Undekhi is a bracingly shot, glossy thriller: it is as wildly expansive as the Hollywood reconnaissance thrillers get. There’s a crime which happened in the delta region of Sunderbans, which is shaking because it is about the killing of a local cop, and the murder has been committed by a tribal girl. But the tremors can be felt in a high-class Punjabi wedding taking place in a flourishing Manali resort. What connects them is the wilderness, layered intentions of the criminally heedful characters, and some corny thrills. The extremely long series is stuffed with its concerns, which includes social corruption, Naxals, tartness in a romantic relationship, the line blurring regression and progression, and a truckload of ambition and lust.
But the show is not a mess you think it is. Not at all. And that’s predominantly because the technicalities grip you. The tension, both emotional and literal, can be felt. The writing is sharp and exciting and the director knows when to push the audience into the wickedness and morbidity of the situation, and when to comfort it with glossy mainstream manipulation. And every aspect is carried out by minimalism, which is helped by outstanding performances from nearly every artist in the ensemble. Undekhi is elevated from each of these.
Watch Undekhi on Sony LIV
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 spilt 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).
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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 likeable.
Watch Mirzapur S2 online on Amazon Prime Video
4. CHURAILS| THRILLER| ZEE5
Director- Asim Abbasi
Pakistani cinema has had a familiar, pivotal structure of primitiveness driving upon social issues, with storylines that lack gratifying layers. With his penetrating dysfunctional family drama Cake (2018), the Pakistani director Asim Abbasi proved his idiosyncratic filmmaking voice with a lot of mastery and delved deep into its concerns without the usually melodramatic way which the other contemporaries of Pakistani cinema use. With his new show Churails, he smashes patriarchy with a sledgehammer, but the context and energy of the narrative feel as focal to Indian context as in the patriarchy of Pakistan. The show is about how a group of women from different walks of life (and different measures of privilege) come together to start a firm that helps suspicious wives in finding out about the cuckoldry of their husbands.
Written progressively and sharply despite utilizing a lot of taboo topics, Churails works brilliantly because it reveals both the strengths and the weaknesses of its feminist discourse, combined with humour that is both sprightly and interesting. The cast elevates the manifestly entertaining nine-hour running time with their emotional complexity which soars.
Watch Churails online on ZEE5
3. 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 humour, 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 colours complement the glory of Mehta in a dark and edgy way, and the same colours work as symbols of sympathy for the Mehta family. The unconventional realness and the carefully executed, marvellous 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
2. 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 second place of the top 5 Hindi web shows of 2020.
Watch Paatal Lok online on Prime Video
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 humour and subtlety, hence the top position in the top 5 Hindi web shows of 2020.
Watch Panchayat on Prime Video