Best of 2021: Shubhra Gupta selects the best web series from India and beyond

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It took me less than a year to go from someone who didn’t take the ‘content’ produced on the web seriously (how can anyone take something so generic as the ‘ content ‘?) we watched in 2021 were those that were released on OTT platforms. This is the year the web first hit the government’s radar: being able to tell the stories that streaming platforms were never supposed to be so free again, especially after the shenanigans that took place after ‘Tandav’. Will creators learn to intelligently subvert and carry on as they’re supposed to?

My top picks are a medley, chosen not only for their strong plots and artful storytelling, but for some of the most interesting faces I’ve encountered this year.

Season 2 of Gullak brought us together with the Mishra family, and their trials and hardships involving, among other things, saving the middle class, following the neighbors, and maintaining a united front. What does the formidable duo of Geetanjali Kulkarni, one of the best Indian actors, and Jameel Khan, and their sons in search of a better life have in store for us in season 3?

Bombay Begums talks about a group of Mumbai women who live in different strata, from meeting rooms to corner offices and chawls. Directed by Alankrita Srivastava not everything lands with the same force, but in the days of MeToo and other intractable struggles that women go through on a daily basis, everything that tries to make us shift our gaze, hence it has been where it should be, is welcome. Pooja Bhatt, Shahana Goswami, Plabita Borthakur play their roles well, and I will be watching anything that contains the awesome Amruta Subhash.

Manoj Bajpayee has understandably led the Raj and DK spy saga The Family Man season 2, and he’s still a pleasure to watch, but this season belonged to Samantha Ruth Prabhu. Her rebellious Raji with a cause channels pain and determination in equal measure, making her a worthy antagonist. Srikant Tiwari, therefore, has his hands full.

Both Aarya season 2 and Aranyak has had its moments. What I will remember from the second season of the star of Sushmita Sen is the final episode which was perfect. And from Raveena Tandon’s comeback show, there are times she settles in, giving her co-star Parambrata Chattopadhyay a look, both challenge and recognition; the other supernatural thriller “The Last Hour” set in the hills, also featured a series of atmospheric moments and a story that seemed to have been worked on, with an equal partnership between newcomer to town Sanjay Kapoor and local cop Shahana Goswami .

Sushmita Sen in Aarya 2.

The best of the lot is a mix between Ajitpal Singh’s “Tabbar” and Anirban Bhattacharya “Mandaar”, a remake of Macbeth that has fascinated me throughout. Both are beautifully written, both fully understand their background, and both have stories that resonate.

The retired cop of the dreaded Pavan Malhotra is also a father and will do anything to prevent his “tabbar” from shattering to pieces. Ranvir Shorey, as the head of a wealthy family involved in shady actions, is also drawing attention. Just like the young people with fresh faces who crisscross the screen. Drugs, drug dealers and corporate thugs are on the scene. We get an inside view of how deep “peela” (the Punjabi word for deadly powder) entered the veins of the victims, and how, ultimately, ultimately, your family is the only thing that will hold by you.

I haven’t been able to shake my mind off the visceral and gripping remake of Macbeth in Bengali ‘Mandaar’, which I watched a few weeks ago. A small coastal village in Bengal, Geilpur, becomes the scene of a power struggle between a wealthy man and his entourage – a cunning yes man, a bratty son, a long-suffering wife – and one of his most loyal men.

There is your Dablu Bhai / Duncan (Debesh Roy Chowdhury) and Mandaar / Macbeth (Debashish Mondal), and there is your conflict. The latter is taunted by his wife (Sohini Sarkar) for not being man enough, just as Lady Macbeth did in the Shakespearean original; ironically, the man who sexually satiates her is also the one to get rid of. Bhattacharya, who also plays the role of a creepy cop with smiling delight, creates a bubbling atmosphere of dread and characters haunted by their deeds. Prophecies, witches, nightmares and death: it’s a Macbeth to remember.

My top international picks include Scenes from a wedding. Fans of Ingmar Bergman’s 1973 original will remember how vividly he explored a marriage on the brink. The HBO 2021 miniseries starring Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain, directed by Hagai Levi, doesn’t scrub the skin of your bones, but it does manage to examine how rancid things can get between a once-in-love couple. Maybe it was then, and it is now, but this thing between men and women? Unending.

Sandra Oh breaks many glass ceilings in ‘The Chair’, created by Amanda Peet and Anne Julia Wyman: she is the first woman to head the English department of a Tony College in the United States, a mother less than a tiger for his adopted daughter, and an occasional companion to a confused white college colleague. What keeps him and the other characters in this delightful series from turning into stereotypes is the precise writing. If you’re the liberal arts genre, you’ll rejoice: so little representation of the arts and those who believe in it, including rabid students protesting a hat, on screen these days. Being too awake can also be one thing.

sandra oh Sandra Oh in Netflix comedy The Chair.

The Underground Railroad, the masterful work of Barry Jenkins redesign of Colson Whitehead’s novel of the same name, translates into a poignant tale of slavery in America in the 1800s. The story of Cora (the very expressive Thuso Mbedu), who escapes from her hellish life on the plantation – she is literally a cotton picker slave – full of constant beatings and intimidation, with the help of a network of sympathizers. Some sequences are terrifying: how do you watch a human being burnt alive? How? ‘Or’ What? And some of the honeyed helpers of the slave cause are as dangerous as the tenacious slave hunters on Cora’s trail. Viewing essential.

Many tomes can be written about how class distinctions and hypocrisy are laid bare in this scathing, sour look at how the very rich cool off, taking their million dollar frills for granted. Mike White, whose previous “Enlightened” featured satirical exhibits on relationships and business games, takes him up as high as he can in “The White Lotus”. Hawaii can be a place of entertainment and entertainment for those who can afford it; for some unfortunate ones, those whose job it is to serve you with a smile, this may be the end of a life.

Would Steve Martin, who made his career playing jovial dudes, make a likely sleuth? He does it, he does it. He teams up with Martin Short and Selena Gomez, and they try to solve a murder in their Upper West Side apartment building with great spirits. “Only Murders In The Building” takes on its full meaning in two or three episodes, then our trio, all loaded with interesting stories, is unstoppable. Excellent comic book thread, created by Martin and John Hoffman.

A small town in Philadelphia. Horrible murders. And Kate Winslet, who bites into her author-backed role as a cop who knows everyone in her town, divorced wife, mother and grandmother, all rolled into one. Winslet in ‘Mare of Easttown’, is an ace. And this tense, revealing, atmospheric series, created by Brad Inglesby, is one of the best shows of the year, hands down.


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