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2023's Must Watch Web Series

December 28, 2023 10:44 IST
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The streaming platforms were replete with violent, profanity-laden gangster shows.

But amidst the noise, there were some effective and thought-provoking shows too.

Deepa Gahlot's list of her top 10 Hindi Web series is subjective, based on quality, not TRPs.

Also, adaptations from foreign sources are not included, so that leaves out series like The Night Manager and Class.

10 Web series worth the viewer's while.


Trial By Fire
Where to Watch: Netflix

This stunning series, both depressing and inspiring, is based on the book by Neelam and Shekhar Krishnamoorthy, who lost two teenage children in the Uphaar cinema fire.

Fifty-nine people died and many more were injured when a faulty transformer started a fire in the theatre, running a 'Housefull' show of the war film, Border.

Produced by Endemol, created by Prashant Nair and Kevin Luperchlo, directed by Nair, Randeep Jha and Avani Deshpande, the series starred Rajshri Deshpande and Abhay Deol as the devastated parents who do not give up the fight for justice, even when they are up against adversaries like the wealthy and powerful Ansal family.

The Krishnamoorthys drive the battle, but the show also captures how the tragedy affected other people, even the ones responsible for the fire.

Undoubtedly, one of the best OTT shows made in India.


Cinema Marte Dam Tak
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video

Vasan Bala's documentary series brings out the forgotten C-grade films of the 1980s and 1990s from their hidden crypts and shines the spotlight on four film-makers: Vinod Talwar, Dilip Gulati, Kishan Shah (brother of Kanti Shah, leader of the pack) and J Neelam.

All of them made tacky, low budget films, skirting the rules of censorship, creating their own star roster, recycling cheap horror and sex plots aimed at a largely male, working class audience.

These movies made money, even if nobody remembers them now.

The series is a tribute and a send-up but has also created a record of these films that once flooded seedy single screens, and had a vast fan following.

Rocket Boys 2
Where to watch: SonyLIV

The first season of Abhay Pannu's show about India's celebrated scientists Homi Bhabha (Jim Sarbh) and Vikram Sarabhai (Ishwak Singh) was terrific and since the most interesting events in their lives were already shown, Season 2 was a hard act to follow.

In the sequel, the country is facing post-Independence growing pains and there is opposition to allocating funds to their fanciful nuclear energy and space plans, when they could be better utilised in poverty alleviation.

The series picks up the issue of nuclear proliferation and India's need to be a strong power centre to deal with hostile neighbours, China and Pakistan.

In quick succession, India loses two strong prime ministers, Jawaharlal Nehru (Rajit Kapur) and Lal Bahadur Shastri (Vijay Kashyap).

Indira Gandhi (Charu Shankar) slowly gathers force while in office.

The CIA, unhappy about India's progress, allegedly plotted Dr Bhabha's murder in an air crash.

A young, long-haired A P J Abdul Kalam (Arjun Radhakrishnan) makes an appearance.

It may not be as good as the first season, but still a fascinating watch.


Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video

The handsomely mounted show about the golden age of Hindi cinema, directed by Vikramaditya Motwane, is a fictionalised version of the rise and decline of the legendary Bombay Talkies.

Shrikant Roy (Prosenjit Chatterjee), who heads Roy Talkies with his wife and business partner, movie star, Sumitra Kumari (Aditi Rao Hydari) are obviously inspired by Himanshu Rai and Devika Rani.

A potential star (Nandish Singh Sandhu) wrecks his chances when he elopes with Sumitra, like the real-life Najmul Hassan, and a lab assistant (Aparshakti Khurana) becomes a star like Ashok Kumar.

Also caught up in the tumult of Partition and its aftermath are a refugee Jay Khanna (Sidhant Gupta) with hopes of making films, and an ambitious courtesan (Wamiqa Gabbi).

Well-researched, with a lavish production design and fine performances, the show is a homage to the early movers and shakers of Mumbai's dream factory.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video

Directed by Reema Kagti and Ruchika Oberoi, this efficient police procedural keeps the socio-political realities of the small town Rajasthani milieu in mind.

A female cop, Anjali Bhaati (Sonakshi Sinha), faces sexism and casteism as she follows the case of the disappearances of several young women, and the possibility of a serial killer on the prowl.

The killer (Vijay Varma) gets away with his crimes because in most cases, the families of the girls simply do not report them missing.

It takes a dogged investigation by Anjali to find clues that lead to more clues and then the shocking discovery that 29 women have been murdered by a man with the same modus operandi.

Gulshan Devaiah and Sohum Shah play Anjali's colleagues, who work with her once they are convinced she is on the right track.

Dahaad, co-created by Zoya Akhtar, is one of the best Indian crime shows on OTT.


Where to watch: Netflix

Hansal Mehta's show, based on former crime reporter Jigna Vora's book Behind Bars in Byculla: My Days in Prison, takes a look at the time when Mumbai was in the grip of the underworld, and the media just could not help but be caught up in the cyclone of corruption and power games.

It was the time when news became entertainment and the press, merely a business.

Jagruti Pathak (Karishma Tanna), based on Vora, crashes the boys' club on the crime beat, cultivating street level contacts, as well top cops, getting front page scoops for her newspaper, edited by the supportive Imran Siddiqui (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub).

Like Vora, Pathak is accused of the murder of a fellow crime reporter, based on J Dey, who is gunned down by hitmen.

A phone interview with gangster Chhota Rajan is enough to have the full force of the law crush her and her own colleagues turn her misfortune into scoops.

The series is a fictional version of true incidents but keeps a realistic format and gripping pace.


School Of Lies
Where to watch: Disney+Hotstar

Directed by Avinash Arun (of Killa fame) with a cast that includes Nimrat Kaur, Sonali Kulkarni, Aamir Bashir, Geetika Vidya Ohlyan and Jitendra Joshi, the dark series is set in a boarding school, from where Shakti, a 12-year-old boy, goes missing.

The series explores why and lays bare the culpability and guilt of the other children and adults, who are supposed to be responsible for the children's well being.

Issues of abuse, addiction, bullying, deception are raised.

It is a disturbing watch; behind the beauty of the landscape is the unimaginable ugliness of the tragedies and traumas that haunt the damaged characters.

Shakti's disappearance is just the catalyst for ripping the cover off all their secrets.


Where to watch: Netflix

Randeep Jha's crime-cum-family drama set in Punjab, is an intense, slow-burning show that takes off from the murder of an NRI bridegroom before his wedding, and the disappearance of his white friend who accompanied him from the UK.

As the families grapple with grief and shock, two cops with troubles of their own -- played by Suvinder Vicky and Barun Sobti -- are assigned the investigation.

There are secrets, lies and complications galore, and things are not what they seem on the placid small town surface.

There's plenty for which to commend this series but if there is one reason to watch, it's Suvinder Vicky.

Scam 2003: The Telgi Story
Where to watch: SonyLIV

In a country riddled with corruption, Hansal Mehta is able to tell interesting stories about contemporary financial crooks.

After Harshad Mehta, he turns his eye towards Abdul Karim Telgi of the stamp paper fraud.

He has not directed this show, but is the showrunner for the series Tushar Hiranandani has helmed.

Gagan Dev Riar plays Telgi, and comes to Mumbai with nothing but the mantra, 'I don't want to earn money, I want to make it.'

He hits upon the idea of producing fake stamp papers, first by stealing from the official boxes coming out of the government press in Nashik, and then in a breathtakingly convoluted scheme, finding a way of printing them.

The show is based on Sanjay Singh's book Telgi: A Reporter's Diary, and charts Telgi's rampant corruption and spirit of enterprise, and later, his infatuation with a bar dancer that led to his downfall.

Riar's perceptive performance holds the show together, after the unfortunate decision to divide the 10 episodes into two parts.


The Railway Men
Where to watch: Netflix

Shiv Rawail makes an assured debut as director and co-writer (with Aayush Gupta) on The Railway Men: The Untold Story of Bhopal 1984, about the lethal gas leak from the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, from the point of view of railway employees, who went way beyond the call of duty to save lives.

There are many people who play crucial parts in the film but the four-part show focuses on four: Iftekaar Siddiqui (Kay Kay Menon), the station master of the busy Bhopal Junction, Rati Pandey (R Madhavan), GM of Central Railway, Imad Riaz (Babil Khan), a newbie railway worker, and an unnamed thief (Divyenndu Sharma), who had come to burgle the station safe but stayed back to help.

As the company stonewalls queries and the government delays action, it is the selfless heroism of ordinary people that controlled to some extent the scale of the disaster.

The show moves briskly, introducing threads and tying them up, and has a brilliant performance by Menon.

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