1. Kohrra(Netflix): I wouldn’t want to insult Kohraa by calling it “entertaining” . As directed by Randeep Jha, Kohraa tried for something far more profound, and almost gets there. The characters are all desperately in search of some meaning to life beyond the wretchedness that shrouds their existence.The wonderfully scripted whodunit(Gunjit Chopra, Sudip Sharma, Diggi Sisodia) opens as police procedural with two police officer Balbir(Suvinder Vicky) and Garundi(Barun Sobti), one worldweary the other getting there, investigating the brutal murder of an NRI Paul Dhillon(Vishal Handa) in rural Punjab.From this kickoff point, the narrative gathers momentum weaving in and out of fractured relationships until we see the befogged world of Kohrra in all its chaotic clarity.That the series is in Punjabi is just in the nature of things.
2. Trial By Fire(Netflix): This is not a series. It is a piece of history regurgitated into a meticulously re-designed eyewitness account of what happened on 13 June 1997 when Delhi’s Uphaar cinema went up in flames extinguishing the joy and wellbeing of several families who lost their near and dear ones in the tragedy.This brave and unflinching series recreates the long and endless legal battle of a couple Shekhar and Neelam Krishnamoorthy who lost both children in the Uphaar cinema fire while watching J P Dutta’s Border.The battle is long . But the couple’s patience, especially Neelam’s , is unlimited. This is the story of resilience determination and obstinacy , so real so tangible you can feel the pain of the couple every step along their painful battle.It won’t be wrong to say the couple fought their own war as fiercely as the soldiers seen in Border.Rajshri Deshpande and Abhay Deol are pitch-perfect. The series creates a credible ambience around the couple.
3. Scam 2003(SonyLiv): Applause Entertainment’s Scam 2003: Telgi Story, like Applause’s Scam 1992 where Harshad Mehta bribed his way to a stockmarket crashdown, brings the real story alive through authentic locations and performances . For me Scam 2003, The Telgi Story is the ultimate do-it-yourself kit on corruption. The stamp paper scam got bigger each time Telgi’s greed multiplied and took monstrous mis-steps. The show scores resounding success in showing the rise of an ordinary cheat of the pickpocket calibre into a national-level scamster.Telgi’s selfconfidence ,often misplaced, is confidently brought out by Gagan Dev Riar. He is the man in the torn chappals in a tearing hurry.There is also a violent side to the man, which no one can understand. No amount of wealth can compensate for the loss of the innocence when you set off to be rich overnight. Telgi is no Macbeth. But the blood on the hands is interchangeable. Confident writing and a nose for the stench of corruption in places where the olfactory nerves don’t usually work, place this series at the top of the heap.
4. Scoop(Netflix): Hansal Mehta’s Scoop is simultaneously an expose on unethical practices in media exposes and also a savage expose on how ambitious women are treated in predominantly male-dominated professions. Crime reporting is most assuredly a mail domain, and certainly no place for a single mother.This, Jagruti Pathak( the name given to crime reporter Jigna Vora who was accused in the murder of fellow crime reporter J Dey) found out the hard way. The nearly-flawless flow of the drama is undiluted by unnecessary diversion. Even at almost eight hours, Scoop is a whoop. It sweeps you along Jagruti’s unbelievable story.
5. Jubilee(Prime Video): Altogether the ten episodes offer vivid sharp stinging glimpses into the golden era of Hindi cinema when superstars were made and unmade by powerful studio owners. There are hints of the Russians and Americans taking hold of the Hindi film industry. These, I suspect, are the writers’ equivalent of the underworld’s presence in the movie industry.The mix and match between what was and what could have been is fairly unerring in Jubilee.For all its flaws(unnecessary darkening of the characters) Jubilee is …well… a jubilee hit.
6. Farzi(Prime Video): Farzi, directed by the infinitely resourceful Family Man duo Raj and DK , is a series about deception, self or otherwise. Sunny (Shahid Kapoor) and his bestie Firoz(Bhuvan Arora) feel they will get away with their counterfeiting act and that they are , finally, on to something big. Michael(Vijay Sethupathi) is on the trail of a counterfeit currency racket. So is Megha(Raashni Khanna). Both keep bumping into the criminals at fancy restaurants and other places. Farzi has some very interesting plot twists . It is mounted impressively, with the settings and locations exuding the musk of misguided materialism.
7. Kafas(SonyLIV): The unspeakable truth about children being vulnerable outside their homes, even at a relatively safe workplace like a film set, haunts this deftly-told story which opens up its plot points like an onion. Kafas which means trapped, is the kind of scarcely-seen series which grips you from the word go. It clasps its tentacles around your neck squeezing the breath out of you.Calling it entertaining would be hugely problematic: you can’t be entertained by a 15-year child being sexually abused by a Bollywood superstar. Director Sahil Sangha treats the sensitive material with utmost care. My compliments to the entire team for making an ugly circumstance so palatable without tempering with the power- centre of the theme.
8. Dahaad(Prime Video): Dahaad puts the roar back into the OTT viewing experience. It is astutely written(by Reema Kagti, Ritesh Shah, Zoya Akhtar) taking sharp U-turns in the narrative when you least expect them. The peppery plot is filled with men who are either misogynists or cowards or both but constanly inflicting emotional and physical pain on the woman around them. Reema Kagti and Ruchika Oberoi direct the spry material with a relentlessly unwavering glance at a society that knowingly or unknowingly gives rise to a closet-monster like Anand. It is an exhausting but exhilarating series that creates ruminative ripples across its storytelling skyline.
9. The Night Manager(Disney+Hotstar): It is immaterial whether you are familiar with John Le Carre’s espionage novel or not. As a stand-alone piece of kitschy art The Night Manager works just fine. The writers Sridhar Raghavan and Sandeep Modi make just the right switches and shifts of mood and location from the original to the remake , rendering the remake so distinct that even those who enjoyed the original would love the desi avatar of The Night Manager.
10. The Railway Men(Netflix): The Railway Men is respectful and sincere in depicting the “untold tragedy”. My primary quibble with the presentation is it shrieking breastbeating tone.Some restrain could have gone a long way. Debutant director Shiv Rawail chooses to go the whole hog. The writing, while pinning the basic facts of the catastrophe in the background, unleashes a ferocious melodrama in the foreground. The excessive zeal to get a dismaying squeal out of the audience notwithstanding, The Railway Men has a lot to admire. The four main heroes Rati Pandey(R Madhavan),Iftikhar Siddiqui(K K Menon), Imaad Riaz(Babil Khan) and Balwant Yadav(Divyenndu Sharma) are rounded well- played characters, but suffer from varying degrees of filmy heroism,especially Divyenndu’s Balwant who like Dharmendra in Pratiggya starts off as in imposter but ends up as a reluctant hero in the tragedy.