Aarya Sareen (Sushmita Sen) seems to have it all. She’s super-fit — in fact, the first episode starts off with her doing some out of this world gymnastics, has a loving caring husband, three adorable kids and is also super-rich. The only problem is that her husband Tej Sareen (Chandrachur Singh) is selling drugs on the side, in partnership with her brother Sangram (Ankur Bhatia) and their mutual friend Jawahar (Namit Das). Their pharma company is just the front for their illegal business. Sangram gets into real trouble when he steals the heroin consignment of the local drug lord Shekhawat (Manish Chaudhary), who was handling it for the Russian drug mafia. Tej is killed in retaliation, Sangram is in jail for drug possession, and the mafia, as well as the police, are after her. 300 crores are missing, and Aarya has to utilise all her wits, and her connections, to get out of the unholy mess she finds herself in.
Aarya is based on the hit Spanish series Penoza. It’s adapted by Sandeep Srivastava and Anu Singh Choudhary. Aarya is torn by grief initially as there was genuine love between her and Tej. His loss weakens her at first but slowly, she picks up the pieces and tries to sort out her life. Her only concern is the safety of her children and like a wounded tigress, she becomes ruthless when needed strikes, willing even to pick up a gun and speak the language of violence that the thugs understand.
The tale is spread across nine episodes and the pace is inconsistent. Some episodes engage you while others prompt you to hit the fast-forward button. While the plot does move along briskly, you get the feeling too many things are happening together. You’re witness to the charmed life of the Rajasthani upper crust and also their seamier side. You meet colourful goons and mafia dons, and dogged policemen who want to bring down the drug empire at any cost. Then, the family rivalry and politics too takes up a big chunk of the narrative.
It could have all gone downhill if not for the brilliant set of actors inhabiting its universe. Chandrachur Singh makes a welcome comeback to acting as the caring family man. He’s killed too soon and we hope we see more of him in films as well as web series. Jayant Kriplani is a pleasure to watch as Aarya sex-crazy dad, who is much in love with his much younger wife Flora Saini, who plays a gold-digger with a heart. Sikander Kher plays his right-hand man and looks the part of a tough soldier ready to do his master’s bidding. Namit Das makes his mark as the cokehead friend and business partner, Sohaila Kapur plays Aarya’s alcoholic mother, Manish Chaudhry is a mob boss in love with cigars and the high life, Vikas Kumar is good as ACP Khan, the cop who wants to shut down the drug scene. Then there is the firang Alexx O’Neill, the Bhagavad Gita loving musician husband of Aarya’s younger sister Soundarya (Priyasha Bhardwaj) who has no clue what kind of family he has married into. Also, we loved the fact that the child actors aren’t just there for decoration but have their own place in the narrative and come out as actual children and not caricatures.
The series really belongs to Sushmita Sen who has come out of self-imposed hibernation with a bang. She’s totally in sync with all aspects of her character, be it the good daughter who tries to mend ties between different factions of her family, the loving wife and mother who wants nothing else than the safety of her children or the loyal friend who sticks by her pals. The series shows both the strength and vulnerabilities of her character, which she brings forth with natural ease.
Trailer : Aarya
Pallabi Dey Purkayastha, June 19, 2020, 9:30 AM IST
STORY: After her pharma baron husband Tej Sareen (Chandrachur Singh) is murdered by a masked man, Aarya (Sushmita Sen) takes it upon herself to get to the bottom of the truth and bring the culprit to justice. But, Tej – and the rest of the clan – had secrets of his own. Who has murdered this personable man, and why?
REVIEW: Theirs was a happy family of four and although the patriarch was selling illegal medications internationally through his pharmaceutical company, he was an ideal husband and a doting dad at home – loyal, loving and kind. Turns out, happiness is short-lived in Aarya’s paradise as one fateful day a masked man shoots her spouse to death in their driveway, and that horrible sight is witnessed by the couple’s youngest child Adi, leaving the poor kid scarred for life.But the charming stay-at-home mother is no damsel in distress and she pledges to catch the shooter herself and bring him to justice.
A little digging into the business’s recent past transactions reveal that Tej and his two other associates – the young and reckless brother-of-the-bride Sangram (Ankur Bhatia) and their mutual friend Jawahar (Namit Das), who is drowning in his drug problems – had stolen heroin from a local drug lord Shekhawat (Manish Chaudhary). And he, in turn, was handling a 300-crore assignment for the Russian drug mafia that was supposed to infiltrate the dark alleys of the state of Rajasthan. If this isn’t troublesome enough, then there is more in store – the business partners got into an ugly altercation just a night before the murder, and Sangram is already behind bars over drug charges that he believes was a brainchild of Tej. With a plethora of motives to die for and a host of possible suspects, it could have been anyone. Is it the money-minded brother? Or, is it the troubled friend? Or, the drug syndicate? Questions aplenty and the road ahead of Aarya only gets murkier when an adamant ACP Khan (Vikas Kumar) of the Drug Enforcement Department shows up at the bereaved family’s doorstep with a search warrant. Sushmita Sen’s big OTT debut ‘Aarya’ is a crime drama-thriller where friends turn foes at the drop of a hat and family turns back on family over money, power and control.
Based on Dutch series ‘Penoza’ that released and rose to fame in 2010, the tone, treatment and execution of its Hindi counterpart is stealthy and mind-freezingly slow. The air looming over all the characters is perpetually melancholic and the background score aptly supports that idea. But even if you convince yourself that the draggy build-up is integral to its narrative, you would soon realise that writer/co-director Ram Madhvani wields his pen at a speed unfit for the plotline of this thriller show; any show! While setting the stage for his layered, closeted grey characters, Madhvani spares no time – the catalytic murder is planted in the first episode itself and boom… the chase begins. What happens thereafter is a nine-episode (and nine hours) long incessant rambling on the broken friendships and fractured family ties among everyone involved with the Rathores and Sareens. If only as a playful experiment, fast-forward any part of it and you still wouldn’t miss much – one hair flip here, two glares there.
It is only after the first four episodes that ‘Aarya’ gains momentum (again, in its own painstakingly unhurried ways) and how! Under usual circumstances and with a swifter snipping tool, the story could have been trimmed down to a six-seven parts miniseries. But, then again, this tale is no typical take on families with shifting loyalties. Barring the dearth of a few much-needed Jump Cuts and Match Cuts, ‘Aarya’ stands out for reasons more than one.
And topping that list of hits is the leader of the pack – Sushmita Sen. That she is a stunner both in glamourous gowns and corporate suits is no secret at all. What is is the way she sheds her skin like a chameleon; her transformation from being this dutiful mother and a docile homemaker to a bootlegger dodging the eyes of the prying law enforcement entities is remarkable. Sen as Aarya exudes a certain kind of elegance and gusto that cannot be taught. Of course, the arched eyebrows and occasional flaring of nostrils help. But she effectively portrays the softy, motherly side of her on-screen persona and that of a situational drug operative in equal measures. In one of the vital scenes, Sen leisurely declares to her nemesis that ‘Trust is good, but control is better ‘and walks away. It is a moment that lingers on. Though his is more of a cameo, Chandrachur Singh’s comeback as the mildly unethical businessman and lover of retro songs is a performance to watch out for in a pool of performances to watch out for. Tej is pot-bellied, unabashedly his wife’s biggest fan and a seasoned entrepreneur with a high moral compass for someone who is in the illegal drugs business.
‘Kahaani’ released way back in 2012 and not too many sociopaths or kill-on-cue roles have made an impact like Bob Biswas (Saswata Chatterjee) did, but Sikander Kher as the ice-cold killing machine Daulat is a gentle reminder of that iconic character. He is brooding from frame one to 100, and his body language is hostility personified but despite all that, Sikander Kher stands out for this offbeat portrayal. Namit Das’s Jawahar is hell’s favourite child – with one foot always in crazy. In a particular scene, he has a mental breakdown and confesses to his wife that he ‘doesn’t know what the hell is happening’, and that has to be one of his finest in ‘Aarya’.
There are other parallel characters, too, that leave a mark in their respective lanes. First case in point, Jayant Kripalani as Papa ‘Hukum’— a title bestowed upon the elderly in a Rajasthani household – essays the role of a progressive parental figure with a surprisingly high libido for someone who is nearing 90. Playing Sen’s bitter mother Rajeshwari, who was swiftly replaced by a ‘gold digger’ one-third her age, is Sohaila Kapur. Not that we support any of that, but it’s refreshing to see a woman well in her 70s mouth expletives like ‘bi*ch’ and ‘s*ut’. The constant bickering between both the parents serves as a comic relief in this otherwise dark and intense crime saga. Likewise, Alexx O’Nell comfortably slips into the shoes of Aarya’s baby sister Soundarya’s (Priyasha Bhardwaj) firang husband, who is repeatedly reminded that he has no idea what he has married himself into. The child artistes (names not mentioned) internalise the trauma of young children who have seen too much in too little time; all natural actors.
Those notorious opium fields, stealing from an international drug cartel, a gay narcotics law enforcer obsessing over one family in particular and the brutal slaying of the family dog: all of it points towards ‘Ozark’. The stark similarity of the script to this popular American crime drama is yet another tipping point that would be criminal to miss out here. A thriller is incomplete without surprises and ‘Aarya’ has two – one of which is easy to predict. Also, the series was shot in Jaipur but except for a few shots of the heritage places and a fleeting mention of the Rajaji Mahal Museum, the cinematography’s bit of a downer in the sense that it fails to capture the vibe of the visually rich city and its culture.
Yes, it is criminal and can be considered a Himalyan blunder to tell a promising story at such a snail-paced rate. But, here is an Indian crime-thriller drama – that is not set in UP or Bihar, and with a man screaming ‘I will be avenged’— that begins with its protagonist, saying, “Violence is not an answer. It is never an answer,” and sticks to it till the very end. Three hoots (and three stars) to women successfully penetrating the world of drug mafia with élan on celluloid.