Sushmita Sen's combination of blazing authority and maternal anxiety are perfectly cast as a woman thrown in the centre of chaos in Aarya 2, observes Sukanya Verma.
The opening image in the first episode of the first season and the final one in the second season's last episode are telling of Aarya's evolution.
In both, she is training on gymnastic rings but from hanging upside down like a bat to flying off like a bird, she has aced her balancing act.
Sushmita Sen's combination of blazing authority and maternal anxiety are perfectly cast as a woman thrown in the centre of chaos.
Everything from her aura, clothes, sophistication and grit are tailor-made for the part.
She doesn't miss a single beat as the ordeal continues in Director Ram Madhvani's grim and tense follow-up.
It's a year-and-a-half since Aarya's husband (Chandhachur Singh) was shot in broad daylight, dragging her and her brood into her unscrupulous family's crooked dealings and closet full of dark secrets.
From realisation to resolve, urgency has given way to second thoughts and scheming evoking the ire of previously accommodating cops (Vikas Kumar) even as friendships are tested and networking with criminals becomes a way of life.
Besides a magnificent Sushmita, Madhvani's adaptation of the Dutch television series Penoza's greatest triumph is how he roots drug cartels and mafia networking within Rajasthan's high society and brings out the real and surreal as well as tragic in cold blood. Often, its ceaseless gloom feels heavy to bear (or binge watch) as if Madhvani and his battery of writers want us to share Aarya's burden.
The kids are not alright and take comfort in their deceased daddy-s musical memories -- it must be said though, Aarya 2's fetish for old Bollywood songs borders on overkill.
Veer (Viren Vazirani), the oldest, is forced to shoulder a responsibility he is neither ready for nor desired.
Aarya's youngest, Aditya's (Pratyaksh Panwar) growing weapon fascination runs parallel to his suppressed trauma of watching his dad gunned down while his killer continues to interact with his mom.
But it's her daughter Arundhati's (Virti Vaghani) arc -- a favourite trope among Hindi Web series of late -- of a solitarily suffering, reckless teenager with a penchant for trouble that hits the series' shrillest note.
Echoes of Arundhati's destructive behaviour can be found in Hina (Sugandha Garg), Aarya's distraught and pregnant sister-in-law, wrecked by her partner Sangram's (Ankur Bhatia) unreliable ways and rash decisions.
Aarya's fallen-from-grace father Zorawar (Jayant Kriplani), his guilty right-hand-man Daulat (Sikander Kher), her secrets-harbouring mum Rajeshwari (Sohaila Kapur), their biggest rival Shekhawat (Akash Khurana) who lost a son (Manish Choudhary) in their infighting, his ruthless henchman Sampat (Vishwajeet Pradhan), a mean-spirited public prosecutor (Dilnaz Irani), small fry cops (Geetanjali Kulkarni) and security guards looking for a personal gain and business-minded Russians contribute to the relentless storm in her life.
There's no respite for anyone through the course of its eight episodes bubbling in anxiety.
Even a semblance of normalcy feels like a façade, like when Aarya serves her son's classmate's father a bowl of khichdi and some small talk. Things look more likely when a distracted cop breaks up with his boyfriend over the phone.
Aarya wears its dysfunctional milieu with elan but doesn't forget the practicality in details.
There's backstabbing and bloody drama aplenty but something as simple as a worn-out Aarya's relief on seeing her old help return to resume duties shows the power of a genuine gesture when living under constant threat and uncertainty.
For keepers of law, her lifestyle and privilege is a source of deep-rooted revulsion while her own misconstrue her survival as conceit.
As the endgame approaches, moral lines are blurred, ethics are compromised, loyalties are shifted and a character's prophetic words -- Zindagi kismat se nahi, faislon se banti hai return to haunt him at the hands of a desperate dame-turned-deadly devi.
Aarya isn't quite done yet. Not with Sushmita Sen anyway.
Aarya Season 2 streams on Disney Hotstar.