The Best Web Series Of 2023

Mid-Year Report Card

By Deepali Singh

Although Bollywood has had its hits and misses this year, the digital world kept the audience engaged with relevant content and standout performances. We take a quick look at some of the best from the lot:

SERIES: JUBILEE

Where to watch: Prime Video

The sepia-toned frames of this Vikramaditya Motwane directorial — a saga set in the 1940s, just a few years before the Partition — bring together stories of characters whose worlds collide in unpredictable ways. A celebration of the golden years of cinema, this is Motwane’s tribute to a time when cinema and radio were the only two media of entertainment and information. There is a movie mogul Srikant Roy (Prosenjit Chatterjee) who is looking to find his next leading man in the form of Madan Kumar. What starts with one man’s single-minded passion (Aparshakti Khurana as Roy’s right-hand man, Binod Das) to achieve stardom has different consequences for different people, including theatre actor Jamshed Khan (Nandish Sandhu), up-and-coming actor Jay Khanna (Siddhant Gupta in a standout performance), courtesan-turned-actor Niloufer Qureshi (Wamiqa Gabbi), and superstar Sumitra Kumari (Aditi Rao Hydari) who is married to Roy, among others. Motwane makes these lives collide in a heady concoction of politics, showbiz, glamour and art, giving each character the chance to shine. The dialogues, set design, costumes and cinematography help recreate a bygone era and an old-world charm which lovers of Hindi cinema are bound to appreciate.

SERIES: FARZI

Where to watch: Prime Video

In March this year, an elated Shahid Kapoor took to Instagram to share that his web series Farzi had been declared “the most watched Indian web series of all time” according to an ORMAX survey. With a record viewership of 37.1 million at the time, this Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK-directorial hit the bull’s eye with its sharp storytelling and solid performances, especially from its two leads – Kapoor and Vijay Sethupathi. Both the actors, making their digital debut, were a treat to watch as they played a cat-and-mouse game in the crime drama about counterfeiting. The subject might seem straight from the ‘80s Hindi films but seeing it through Raj and DK’s unconventional lens made all the difference.

As The Artist, Kapoor is in full form, reminding you of the brilliance he had shown in Kaminey and ever since, while Sethupathi’s cop Michael, with a troubled marriage and a zeal to chase the bad guys, is a pleasure to watch. Kay Kay Menon, who has proved time and again that he can essay any role to perfection, shines here as well with his unpredictable and slick gangster act. Also, brownie points for the crackling scenes between Michael and power-hungry neta Pawan Gehlot, played by Zakir Hussain.

SERIES: KOHRRA

Where to watch: Netflix

A dead body of an NRI is found in the fields of Punjab within the first few minutes of the first episode, setting the stage for creator Sudip Sharma’s brilliantly crafted police procedural. Suvinder Vicky and Barun Sobti headline the series as two Punjab cops who follow the leads meticulously only to arrive at a conclusion, which seems shrouded in a fog, lending the series its title. What seems like an investigative drama about a murder at first opens up a Pandora’s box about generational trauma, patriarchy, casual violence, entitlement and power.

The writing is layered and nuanced, begging the viewers to read between the lines. The atmospheric tension and cultural nuances of Punjab add to the mystery. It helps that the makers have put together a pitch-perfect cast, including Vicky as cop Balbir Singh and his subordinate Amarpal Garundi, played by Sobti in this tragic series driven by love. When a disgruntled Balbir tells Garundi, “yeh pyaar badi g****u cheez hai”, it hits hard.

SERIES: TRIAL BY FIRE

Where to watch: Netflix

Of all the shows listed here, Trial by Fire is the hardest to watch, simply because it deals with the aftermath of one of the most heartbreaking tragedies this country has seen – the Uphaar Cinema fire in June 1977 in which 59 people lost their lives. This poignant tragedy is brought to life onscreen with a pitch-perfect and fiery performance by Rajshri Deshpande, who is the tour-de-force of the series. Her fiery Neelam Krishnamoorthy finds balance in the stoic Abhay Deol as Shekhar Krishnamoorthy – parents of two children who lost their lives in the fire. The writing by Prasant Nair and Kevin Luperchio never crosses the line to sensationalise the lives of the parents as they fight for justice. Instead, there is a clear focus on showcasing the pain of losing their children and the anger and frustration of dealing with a system that continues to fail them. The last episode, not for the weak-hearted, shows the dramatised sequence of the actual events that transpired inside the cinema hal.

SERIES: SCOOP

Where to watch: Netflix

If there’s one filmmaker who can be trusted with telling a real story well, it’s got to be Hansal Mehta. After the delicious Scam 1992 based on the life of stockbroker Harshad Mehta, Mehta set his sights on the story behind journalist, J Dey’s murder. Based on crime reporter Jigna Vora’s book Behind Bars in Byculla: My Days in Prison, Scoop showcases the complicated and often turbulent relationship among print journalism, Mumbai’s underworld, and the police. The show is also a comment on the prejudices that female journalists face in the male-dominated newsrooms.

Even with the kind of sensitive material he is dealing with, Mehta scores by not allowing the show to turn into a melodrama. Karishma Tanna delivers, arguably the best performance of her career as Jagruti Pathak, the crime reporter who gets arrested in connection with the broad daylight murder of seasoned crime journalist Jaideb Sen (Prosenjit Chatterjee) by Chhota Rajan’s men. A word here for Harman Baweja who returns to the screen after a hiatus to deliver a stellar performance as JCP Shroff and Mohd Zeeshan Ayub who is solid as Pathak’s editor, Imraan.

SERIES: DAHAAD

Where to watch: Prime Video

When girls from lower castes start going missing from several districts of Rajasthan, it is up to sub-inspector Anjali Bhaati of Mandawa to connect the dots and come to the conclusion that there is a serial killer on the loose. In this quest, Bhaati – played by a fierce Sonakshi Sinha – is ably supported by Inspector Devi Lal Singh (Gulshan Devaiah) and SubInspector Kailash Parghi (Sohum Shah). Sinha might wear the same scowl on her face with which she started her acting career in Dabangg but her acting skills have shown a marked improvement over the years and as Bhaati, she does make a mark.

Creators Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti have always done justice in creating engaging characters and here too, they do a commendable job, especially with Vijay Varma’s quietly menacing Anand Swarnakar. That he is the killer is evident right from the beginning but it is in the show’s attention to detail — when it comes to following up on the clues that lead to his ultimate arrest — that the series really shines. Caste politics and small-town conservatism play pivotal roles in shaping the world of Dahaad. More than anything, the show proves that more women telling women’s stories is a narrative we all need.

Reproduced with permission from Mansworldindia.com

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