Cast: Sushmita Sen, Chandrachur Singh, Sikandar Kher, Ankur Bhatia, Namit Das, Vikas Kumar, Manish Choudhary, Jayant Kripalani, Vishwajeet Pradhan, Alexx O’Nell, Sohaila Kapur, Virti Vaghani, Viren Vazirani, Maya Sarao, Sugandha Garg, Gargi
Director: Ram Madhvani
Co-directors: Sandeep Modi & Vinod Rawat
Streaming on: Disney Plus Hotstar Specials
In the opening scene of the series, Aarya (Sushmita Sen) is shown suspended upside down as she works-out on Olympic rings. Gymnasts will tell you how the still rings help develop core strength, stamina, and test your resilience. This scene is a strong metaphor as Aarya is completely unaware of how her life too is actually about to turn upside down very soon and test her core strengths to extreme limits.
A loving wife, a doting mother to her three children, a dear friend, a caring sister and a darling daughter – Aarya is all of this! She belongs to an affluent business family in Rajasthan who own a pharmaceutical company, which in reality is only a front to cover their illegal trading in opium. She is married to Tej Sareen (Chandrachur Singh), who along with Aarya’s brother Sangram (Ankur Bhatia) and their good friend Jawahar (Namit Das) are partners in the pharma company. Aarya is insistent on Tej not being a part of her family’s business, and he too is a reluctant partner in the illegal trade. On wanting out, he is shot at by an unknown assailant. With a debt of Rs 300 crore for which Tej is being blamed and with Sangram jailed, Aarya and her family is thrown into turmoil. She is pushed to getting down and dirty in the illegal trade herself to protect her children and family. With the drug mafia headed by Shekhawat (Manish Choudhary), Russian cartels and ACP Khan (Vikas Kumar) of the Anti-Narcotics Bureau, all hot on her heels, she is left with no choice. She is forced to fight back and she decides to strike back hard. Relying on her instincts, and courage, how Aarya navigates her way through the labyrinth of violence, lies, betrayal and deceit of the crime world is the crux of the story.
On one hand, Aarya struggles her way through the layers of the drug trade that she hated since she was a child and had always wanted to escape from. On the other hand, there are constant challenges being flung at her on the home-front as well, as she tries to work out teenage issues of her two older children and the psychological issues that her youngest child faces after having witnessed his father being shot at! Helping her through this is her father Zoravar’s (Jayant Kripalani) trusted right hand man Daulat (Sikandar Kher). How and to what extent is Aarya willing to go to protect her family form the nine episodes of the web-series.
The OTT platforms in recent times have been overrun with crime series that rank high on gore, sex, violence and an excessive use of abusive language. Well, this crime thriller is definitely a welcome change in the genre and it even lends a certain dignity to it.
Adapted from the Dutch series Penoza, Aarya scores high on almost all aspects of its making. Right from the direction, to the music, the dialogues to the cinematography and production design, the makers have aced it on almost all fronts. But the strongest facet of the series is the perfect casting.
And here Sushmita Sen being cast as Aarya takes the cake! She owns it and how. After being a star for so long, here is finally a role that does justice to the actress in her and in turn Sushmita does full justice to her character Aarya. It’s hard to see where Sushmita ends and Aarya begins – almost like an extension of the star’s own persona. Strong, dignified, determined and yet at heart a loving mother, she pours it all out seamlessly in front of the camera. Her emotional scenes with the children are tender and full of soul.
Now that Chandrachur Singh too has returned to the fold as an actor, he should stay on (notwithstanding the Shashi Tharoor memes). He is endearing as the gentle father and a loving husband. There’s just the slightest hint of an interesting, yet very subtle chemistry in the equation between Sushmita and Sikandar that makes you wonder if that would be a track that would find a direction. Rest of the cast play the parts very convincingly as well and stay true to their roles right till the end. Alexx, Namit, Manish, Vivek, Ankur, Maya, Vishwajeet Pradhan all of them are impressive including the younger actors and the senior most too. The well-etched characters – irrespective of whether their actions are right or wrong – make you empathize with them. However, somehow you don’t feel emotionally too invested in any of them.
Call it the side-effects of the lockdown that has brought out the inner chef in most of us, but I can’t resist comparing the series to a dish. So, it looks like the makers have reached out for possibly all the ingredients on the film-making shelf – from teenage angst to the experimenting with smoking and drugs, the stirrings of young love, rebel without cause, opium mafias, Russian drug lords, the quintessential Indian wedding, the romance, kidnapping, a child carrying a gun to school, the chase, the infatuation with an older man, the other woman, homosexuality, the art and pop culture, a villain and his henchman, the religion card, you name it and it’s probably there.
However, inspite of the high quantity of ingredients, it’s not a random mix just thrown in. In the hands of seasoned makers, all the ingredients have been put together with great precision with neither spoiling the taste nor overpowering the essence of another. In fact, every ingredient brings out its own flavour. This one’s not a fast food affair! Rather it’s a delectable item on the menu that has been prepared with grace, an effortless ease and a finesse, that few can master.
The makers are in no rush to tell the story, and the pace is slow, but it is steady and engaging enough to not let you wander off to try another side-dish. Some important issues have been handled very sensitively and in fact their depiction as non-issues on camera will hopefully help normalise them in our society. Like their son who wets his bed and needs counselling. The makers have a finger on the pulse of the human psyche -delving into their darkest fears and corruptions, but also tapping their greed and helplessness that drives them to do what they do.
Visually it’s a treat too. The production design scores high and the locales and backdrop melt beautifully into the plot. The mansion scenes are classy and have an old-world charm. The music (by Vishal Khurrana) is well-adapted and adds to the mood. The old classics have a haunting effect and you’ll find yourself humming the songs long after. The continuity blends in and it would be hard to say that it was helmed by three different directors. Also, full marks to the directors especially Ram Madhvani – who proves his mettle once again after Neerja – for keeping it low on histrionics and the melodrama and high on realism and aesthetics. On the low point, the show could’ve been wrapped up in eight episodes.
So, would we recommend Hotstar Specials Aarya, definitely yes! It’s a gripping entertainer and the thriller has many interesting twists and turns that’ll keep you guessing right till the end. In fact, watch out for a second helping too if the makers are planning on a Season 2 any time soon.
Did you know that:
The real name of the house where they shot the home scenes is Aarya House.
The opening scene was originally planned to show Aarya in a swimming pool and was later changed to Olympic rings on Sushmita’s insistence.
Sushmita made jaws drop and stunned the cast and crew when she could hold on to the rings for longer than a minute comfortably.
The artists used closets to dub as the lockdown was in place and they didn’t want to delay the release.
This was the first time that Sushmita attended a workshop to perfect her role and play a character.