Aarya Sareen is back. With a bang. When season 2 opens, the mother of three is between a rock and many hard places: as she straddles a face-off with her family, the king-pins of the drugs ‘dhanda’ in Rajasthan while protecting her children at all costs, she has never been as vulnerable. Bullets fly, betrayal is afoot at every step, and lives are at stake again. Will she go under as her enemies mount a series of attacks, or will she rise, overcoming all obstacles?
I enjoyed season one of ‘Aarya’, based on Spanish original ‘Penoza’, and found it to be one of the better series on the web in 2020. It was well written, directed and produced (credited to Ram Madhvani, Sandeep Modi, Sundeep Srivastava, Anu Singh Choudhary) and gave us an interesting bunch of faces all riffing off each other. Season 2, which starts from where the previous one had left off, is as engaging, rising out of a slightly laggy middle curve which threatens to sink and wallow, and finding its sweet spot in the second half with action-packed, well-done thrills while keeping the emotional core of the series alive.
I don’t want to give anything away, but it would be safe to say that some of the characters from Season One are back: Jayant Kriplani as the ageing, ailing lion still clinging to power, Sohaila Kapur as the world-weary elderly woman who has seen it all, Ankur Bhatia as Sangram, Aarya’s duplicitous brother, Sikander Kher as Daulat, the family loyalist with a chink-in-his-armour, Vishwajeet Pradhan as a hood with conscience, Vikas Kumar as the cop who struggles to do the right thing professionally and personally, and Sugandha Garg and Maya Sarao as Hina and Maya, Aarya’s soul sisters and frenemies, both as effective as before.
Some new characters show up. Akarsh Khurana as the grieving father determined to avenge the death of his son, Dilnaz Irani as the ultra-ambitious public prosecutor who doesn’t mind bending the law to get her way, Geetanjali Kulkarni as a greedy cop, Charu Shankar as the vengeful sister-and-caring-mum, and a few others. Some leave a mark, the others feel like padding. But the remnants of Rajasthani royalty-and-servitude is still as strong a setting.
A last-minute, over-dramatic courtroom reversal leads to the overturning of the open-and-shut case against the bad guys. Aarya’s priorities are clear. Family is everything. But if there is one thing that Aarya will not countenance, it is a threat to her own children. Then everything is off the table. We saw this trait in the previous season: here, the writers strengthen it. Aarya will happily serve ‘khichchdi’ as comfort food and be on top of every scrape on her child’s knee; she will also sharpen her claws coldly and consummately when she needs to.
Season 2 starts off a little scattered, as the series tries to draw back for a wider picture– Sangram trying to get out of a hole, aware that he is going to be a father, a hysterical Hina accusing Aarya of perfidy, and Khurana and his daughter plotting the downfall of the woman responsible for a tragedy in their family– before zeroing in for the kill.
In between I was getting somewhat tired of repetition: making a character say ‘isko post mortem ke liye bhej do’, twice, with the same inflection, tells me that either someone was not aware of the loop, or didn’t care (viewers remember these things). And of Aarya’s pastel immaculateness: even when she is doing an eyebrow-raising breaking-and-entry job, she doesn’t forget to carry her designer bag just so.
There are also some filmi touches which tell you that the people involved in the making of this series have Bollywood roots, but fortunately they remain touches, and are not given time to overcome the general atmosphere of the series, overrun by drug barons, corrupt cops, jolly-with-a-hint-of-menace Russian mobsters, coke snorting accountants and the occasional bloody torture sequence. Some tracks are thin, and left hanging, perhaps to be kicked up in future.
But once the half-way mark is over, everything settles down. The pace picks up. The plot kicks in. And all is on track. Aarya’s kids, all three of them, who had a lot to do in the first season, are given space again for their own troubles to come to the fore: the gunning down of their father (Chandrachur Singh), which kickstarts season one, and who reappears in flashback in this season, has left deep scars upon all of them.
The real star of this season is Sen, the woman who is ‘just a working mother’, doing her thing. She overcomes our skepticism at her not being able to rise above her desire to look perfect at all times, and her dialogue delivery which can tend towards a practised sameness, and gets down and dirty. There’s one specific scene involving a severed body part in which she delivers with a chilly steeliness: I guarantee you will wince, and look at her with new eyes. And whoever has thought of the climactic Holi episode, with Sen’s face smeared in blazing red, overlaid with the lovely ‘Digambar khelein Masane mein Hori’ ditty, take a bow. It makes for a striking end, and has left me wanting more. When is season 3?