As more and more filmmakers and writers made an appearance, some from films or television and others directly, and many more avenues opened up, 2022 continued to see the OTT platforms boom with varied entertainment fare that only added to the buffet of manoranjan the Indian audience was served.
Unlike TV serials, which were always considered poor cousins of cinema, the web was never thought infra-dig. Today, even an OTT release for a movie is no longer considered as a last resort but a shrewd move that exposes films on the same day to multiple countries that otherwise do not have even a remote connection with India. And the same applies to such stories.
There are other pluses: compromising commercial compulsions are not there, budgets and scales can match a film, and therefore bold or unconventional subjects can be created and presented fearlessly. Marketing, therefore, is not that expensive and these series can be watched keeping in mind the current audience-friendly criteria of “Convenience (of watching), Economics and Variety” (as mentioned in Countdown 2022—Part 1: The Over-the-Top Year!).
A web series is thus a win-win situation for all. Unlike TV serials that thrive on family dramas, especially going traditional to appeal across the nation, web series went the bolder way in their predominant thriller genre as well as romantic fare, comedies and people-oriented stories.
However, since there was a glut of them in 2022, probably even more than before, quality often went for a toss. And even as more and more film stars came in (Ajay Devgn—who also produced a web series, The Great Indian Murder, Suniel Shetty, Madhuri Dixit-Nene, Raveena Tandon Thadani and Esha Deol, while Akshay Kumar, Siddharth Malhotra, Varun Dhawan and Shahid Kapoor are set to enter), certain unhealthy trends flourished.
For one, the cliffhanger tradition often made things annoying for otherwise gripping sagas, even in the next season was awaited with anticipation, because the stories were left incomplete rather than concluded within the plot!
Two, the absence of censorship continued to encourage heavy expletives (welcome exceptions were Mukhbir and Khakee—The Bihar Chapter), unpalatably grisly violence (the recent and hyped CAT sees a man being tossed into a rice-mill flour grinder and blood emanating like a fountain), and other sequences that make a normal or family viewer cringe. Sex sequences, of course, abounded, and here too, there was needless use (when never indicated or relevant to the plot) of male or female homosexuality.
And though OTT is a long-format genre, many of these series used this as an excuse for lax editing and prolonged lengths of episodes. Let me also enumerate a few misadventures from an audience point of view: while Fame Game, The Great Indian Murder, Bloody Brothers, The Great Weddings of Munnes or Anamika were sorely disappointing, others also were poor sequels of landmark predecessors —like Panchayat 2, Criminal Justice 3 and Four More Shots Please 3.
In this category, I would also rate the newest season of Famous Lives of Bollywood Wives. Kapil Sharma: I’m Not Done Yet was another unexpected real life-based downer, but in stark contrast was the entertaining Masaba Masaba 2.
The third season of the America-made Mindy Kaling production about Indian people in the US—Never Have I Ever Season 3, was the best yet, though not India-made. And Aashram 3 (named Ek Badnaam…Aashram 3), Undekhi 2, Maharani 2 and Delhi Crime 2 either matched or surpassed Season 1. Speaking of separate stories under the same name, Avrodh 2 was way ahead of the first season. And for me, Gullak 3 was a show on par with the over-hyped, tepid earlier seasons—in the watered down Basu Chaterjee canon.
Among the other high-points of the year were ZEE5’s Mithya (noted for a stunning turn by Avantika Dassani in her debut) and The Broken News, Rudra—The Edge of Darkness and Human on Disney+Hotstar and the refreshingly different and seriocomic Kaun Banegi Shikharwati.
And so we come to what I think are by leagues the finest five series of 2022. In alphabetical order, they are Avrodh: The Siege Within on Sony LIV, Delhi Crime 2 on Netflix, Ghar Waapsi on Disney+Hotstar, Maharani 2 on Sony LIV and Rocket Boys, also on that platform. I would thus vote for SonyLIV as the platform of the year. But regrettably, Amazon Prime Video did not make it with even a single series among the elite, and neither did Voot or ALTBalaji among the other leading names.
Avrodh 2: The Siege Within was based on a chapter from Shiv Aroor and Rahul Singh’s India’s Most Fearless 2 and detailed a true but dramatized saga of what led to the 2016 demonetization move by Prime Minister Narendra Modi—the ominous plot to unleash a counterfeit currency ‘epidemic’ into India. Raj Acharya’s spellbinding direction was the icing on the cake of this wonderful series featuring Abir Chatterjee, Vijay Krishna, Aahna Kumara, Neeraj Kabi, Ananth Mahadevan, Sanjay Suri and others in key roles.
Delhi Crime 2 was not just a worthy successor to its (OTT blockbuster and award-winning) previous season but featured a magnificent performance from Shefali Shah (this lady aced it every time this year, come Human or her films Jalsa, Darlings and Doctor G) as its top on-screen attraction. Behind the screen, it was a magnificently-executed series directed by Tanuj Chopra with a group of writers who proved that too many cooks do not necessarily spoil a broth. The procedural thriller was, in short, a near-masterpiece.
Ghar Waapsi was a stunningly fresh concept that elevated the viewer and gave us homilies without in-your-face preaching. How human beings make themselves miserable by succumbing to the rat-race, at the cost of happiness and family as well as friendships that make life complete, was beautifully told in this moving and enriching story. It was directed by Ruchir Arun and wonderfully written by Tatsat Pandey and Bharat Misra.
Maharani 2 was what a sequel should be in every sense of the term: better, well-conceived and with a definite dramatic graph, while paving the way for yet another hopefully bigger Season 3. Huma Qureshi was obviously the mainstay of this wonderfully narrated political-cum-human drama. The Subhash (Phas Gaya Re Obama, the Jolly LLB franchise) Kapoor brainchild was directed by Ravinder Gautam and was a showcase of great performances from every actor, come Kani Kusruti, Sohum Shah, Amit Sial or others.
Rocket Boys, detailing the story of Dr. Homi Bhabha and Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, India’s pioneering rocket scientists, displayed what a biopic should be. It was astoundingly riveting, brilliant technically and showed that long-format, rather than a 150 minute biopic, was the ideal vehicle for a saga that needed to be told with its nuanced details. Jim Sarbh as Homi Bhabha put in a stupendous performance as Bhabha, while Ishwak Singh was no less as Sarabhai. Abhay Pannu’s direction helped make this one a textbook on how a web series based on reality should be conceived and structured.