The year 2021 was an adventurous one for streaming platforms. Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Sony LIV, Disney+ Hotstar and many others were solely responsible for providing us entertainment for the second year in a row, and this time too, they did the best they could to distract us from the horrors of the real world.
The Hindi web series space saw the makers experimenting with newer genres and formats, which gave us a lot of options to choose from. While Sony LIV’s Tabbar gave us an emotional family drama with a curious thriller element, the same platforms Gullak Season 2 raised the bar for slice-of-life content on the internet.
Manoj Bajpayee’s The Family Man 2 presented an engaging thriller where Samantha Ruth Prabhu captured the screen with her layered performance. Netflix’s Geeli Pucchi had Konkona Sensharma taking over the screen as a lower caste woman whose desires and ambitions are dismissed because of her place in society.
Here are the 10 best shows and anthologies that we saw this year:
Sony LIV’s Tabbar started off as a story of a middle-class family that finds itself in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, it soon transformed into a heart wrenching tale of a family, that will go to any extent to protect each other, despite the grave repercussions. Tabbar was excellent in moments where Omkar (Pavan Malhotra) and Sargun (Supriya Pathak) are stuck with the moral conundrum of whether they should take Lucky (Paramvir Cheema) to the hospital or leave him to die. The scenes where Omkar turns to his dark side make you wonder if he has lost everything already, and is just fighting a losing battle. The show ended on a poignant note and delivered one of the best endings to a Hindi series that we have seen so far.
A simple middle-class family lives in a nondescript town. Their life is as mundane as any of us but this mundaneness offers all the comfort of dal-chawal – satisfying, wholesome and homely. Sony LIV series Gullak returned for a second season at the start of the year and offered some of the most wholesome moments we have seen on television this past year. Be it Mummy’s (Geetanjali Kulkarni) anger that made the family members take note of her deteriorating health or Annu’s (Vaibhav Raj Gupta) frustration at not being as successful as he hoped he would be – Gullak felt like it was a reprised version of an early 1990s television show that brings a smile to your face but can make you tear up just as easily.
3. The Family Man 2 (Amazon Prime Video)
The ‘family man’ in this show has to save the nation, but also look after his family, and this season – the two overlapped. The show found some great performers in Manoj Bajpayee and Samantha Ruth Prabhu and the makers pushed their execution to the next level in this sophomore season. The shootout at the police station, done in a single shot, was just one of the many in the series but the orchestration of the scene was so precise that you marvel at the preparation that the makers put into it.
4. Geeli Pucchi, Ajeeb Daastaans (Netflix)
This short in Netflix’s anthology Ajeeb Daastaans explored how caste is deeply ingrained in Indian society, and how it trumps everything – love, friendship, and even humanity. Delicately handled by director Neeraj Ghaywan, Geeli Pucchi shared the story of a woman who starts the race from way behind the line, and has to go out of the way at every juncture just so she can exist. When she finally meets someone, who could mean something to her, society reminds her of her place. Konkona Sensharma is the heart and soul of Geeli Pucchi and she especially excels in the scene where she tells Aditi Rao Hydari’s Priya to have a baby.
5. Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa, Ray (Netflix)
The short was a part of Netflix’s Ray and while not every short in this anthology struck the right chord, Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa starring Manoj Bajpayee and Gajraj Rao took you to a surrealist world that felt like a joyride. The two characters, who are connected via a lucky pocket watch, are aware of their kleptomaniac tendency but the game of stealing, and later putting the watch back, as we witness their life like a live art installation, keeps you on the hook. The element of the nostalgia shop that saves everyone’s secrets was a cherry on the cake here.
6. Mumbai Diaries 26/11 (Amazon Prime Video)
Set during one of the most harrowing days that the country has witnessed in the 21st century, Mumbai Diaries 26/11 had binge-watch written all over it, and while it was as mainstream as one could possibly go, the show delivered on its promise. The show could have done without a few unnecessary backstories but it delivered on making an exciting thriller that mixes reality with fiction in a way that definitely should be explored more in the Hindi content space. Mohit Raina was in top form here, and was ably supported by some of the cast members, especially the cops.
The TVF show started with a bang and rolled out weekly episodes on YouTube and before anyone realised, every episode of Aspirants raised the bar for emotionally satisfying content available on the internet. Aspirants spoke to a generation of students who genuinely believe that hard work is the way to success, and are ready to sacrifice their youth so they can secure a bright future for themselves. The show stood out in the midst of content that is repeatedly telling the youth to follow their unconventional dreams, as opposed to choosing a traditional career path, and surprisingly, it spoke to a large audience. The show got a little too indulgent at times, and treaded away from the main story towards the end, but it still had an impact.
8. Spotlight, Ray (Netflix)
Ray had another short that was thoroughly impressive and it was Vasan Bala’s Spotlight. The story of a narcissistic film star who is fighting a lost battle against a god-woman was as surreal as one could possibly get. The short took the theme of fandom, and how it translates differently for a film star as opposed to a god-woman. Radhika Madan was the star of the show here who demands attention from the audience as long as she is on the screen. Her aura enchants you and you can believe why Harshvardhan Kapoor’s Vik is mesmerised by her.
9. Grahan (Disney+ Hotstar)
Disney+ Hotstar’s Grahan was an admirable attempt to present a love story amid the 1984 riots in Bokaro. Grahan’s execution of a forbidden love story was top-notch, and it has to be noted that much of it was achieved because of the right casting. The show’s present-day timeline, which unfolded like an investigation, recalled the horror of the riots as they painfully presented the stories of those who lost everything. The political angle of the story needed more heft as it did not offer anything that wasn’t clear from the get-go. Grahan was a pensive tale that had various gut-punching moments, but the preachiness that took over the narrative in the last couple of episodes took away from its heft.
10. Kota Factory 2 (Netflix)
Kota Factory was one of the most popular shows of the year when it was originally released so there were quite a lot of expectations from the second season. While the show bit a little more than it could chew, it was, nevertheless, an admirable attempt in trying to tell a story of Indian teenagers that did not exploit their weaknesses. Of course, Kota Factory could have explored the systemic problems even more but the show never wanted to be the one to create a revolution, instead, this is the one that tells the story of everyone who wants to follow the herd.
Looking forward to 2022!