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16 shows to watch during the lockdown

By Nikita Puri
April 19, 2020 18:45 IST
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Nikita Puri lists the best shows and films to watch online as you ace social distancing.

Be it videos of penguins being taken for walks around the zoo or cats playing games with their humans, the Internet can be an endless source of entertainment in these stay-at-home weeks.

 

Kidding, Disney Hotstar

This Jim Carrey starrer is now streaming online and it is recommended even for those who have previously been put off by Carrey's over the top acting in slapstick works such as Ace Ventura.

Carrey is seen as Jeff Pickles, a beloved television presenter who is adored by children and adults alike, thanks to his long-running puppet show.

Mr Pickles is a fairy tale-like person who teaches children valuable life lessons. But when he loses one of his twins, his grief leaves him distraught and all he wants to do is acknowledge that loss on the show and teach his viewers (primarily children) about death, something the makers of his puppet show strongly oppose.

The poignant series is a tale of how Pickles deals with the loss of a child, all the while trying to protect the multimillion-dollar brand empire that's built on his 'happy' image.

 

Self Made, Netflix

This limited series sees Octavia Spencer as the historical figure of Sarah Breedlove, widely documented as America's first African-American businesswoman who went on to become a millionaire in the early 1900s.

The self-made entrepreneur and philanthropist made an empire out of making cosmetics and hair care products for black women.

Spencer, applauded for her role in the Academy Award-winning film The Help, convincingly plays Breedlove, right from her days of being a single mother who started out by being a washerwoman to support her daughter to building a business called the Madam C J Walker Manufacturing Company.

Directed by Kasi Lemmons, the narrative has been fictionalised slightly to reimagine the struggles of a woman born on a cotton plantation to a formerly enslaved family, but the feel-good series is largely based on true events.

 

Better Call Saul, Netflix

This one's a slow burner created by Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, and is a spin-off from the former's hugely successful Breaking Bad.

Much of the cast of Breaking Bad, save the two lead characters, make their appearance in this show. The protagonist of this crime drama is Jimmy McGill played by Bob Odenkirk.

The show doubles as a standalone precursor to Breaking Bad and charts the slow descent of the lovable and street-smart McGill into the world of crime.

McGill is a self-made man who earned his law degree while working in the mailroom, who then becomes a badly paid lawyer who works out of the rear of a nail salon.

Despite the borderline-criminal ways McGill gets things done, the cards he has been dealt almost makes one sympathise with his shady character.

 

Afsos, Amazon Prime Video

This miniseries follows Nakul, a writer so unsuccessful that he attempts to commit suicide serially. He remains unharmed, but the same cannot be said for those who save him.

If this plot wasn't ridiculous enough to warrant a watch, Nakul decides to enlist the help of 'reformed' contract-killers who now 'help' people wanting to die.

While Nakul, played by Gulshan Devaiah, holds the story together, Heeba Shah as the deadly assassin Upadhyay is a treat to watch for her deadpan commitment to what she calls 'art'.

Throw in a bunch of scientists hunting for an immortality potion, and a sadhu tracking Nakul because he appears to be immortal, and you have a story ripe with plot twists.

Directed by Anubhuti Kashyap, Afsos has plenty of things wrong with it, but its chilled attitude to morbid subjects like mortality and fatality makes it watchable.

 

Hunters, Amazon Prime Video

Inspired by stories of real 'Nazi hunters', the polarising show follows a motley group of people who have chosen to band together to seek out war criminals hiding (mostly) in America under new identities.

The show stars Al Pacino as Meyer Offerman, a Jewish philanthropist and Holocaust survivor who doubles as the leader of the group covertly hunting Nazis in New York.

While real life hunters, like Simon Wiesenthal, took their findings to the police or the media, the show's characters take it upon themselves to avenge the Jews who suffered at the hands of Nazis.

And it is this attitude that makes their youngest recruit, Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman) who takes his late grandmother's place in the group, question everything that he believes in.

With elements of a vengeance fantasy and satirical comic book-story telling, the show has issues but there's some stellar acting in here.

 

Curb Your Enthusiasm, Disney Hotstar

Transforming the simplest stuff into sublime art takes a rare talent. And Larry David, writer and co-creator of Seinfeld, who plays a fictionalised version of himself in Curb Your Enthusiasm, is a past master.

To vent his ire at wobbly tables and lukewarm coffee, he opens up a 'spite store', a coffee house right next to the coffee house with the wobbly tables and lukewarm coffee.

Without either, of course. The 10th and newest season of this series is as relevant to the times as possible, throwing in references to Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo movement.

There's also an episode where David goes around town wearing a MAGA (Make America Great Again) hat after discovering that the accessory popularised by Donald Trump works like a charm in keeping people away (social distancing before coronavirus).

 

Mentalhood, ALT Balaji and zee5

Karisma Kapoor makes her Web debut as Meira, a mother of three, in this story of how imperfect parents try to raise their kids as best as they can.

A former Miss Kanpur, Meira has only recently moved to Mumbai to raise a 'modern family' with Sanjay Suri who stars as her workaholic husband.

The series also features a dependable star cast that includes Sandhya Mridul, Tillotama Shome, Shilpa Shukla, Shruti Seth and Dino Morea.

Created by Ekta Kapoor and directed by Karishma Kohli, the show charts Meira's evolution into a blogger who writes on everything from nutrition to gender roles in the hopes of creating a parenting guide.

The show comes across as being inspired by the Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman-starrer American drama Big Little Lies and, unlike the American series, this preachy series is likely to be enjoyed more by viewers who have children.

 

Life of Speed, Netflix

This fresh-on-the-block documentary narrates the story of Juan Manuel Fangio, an Argentinian race car driver who more or less dominated the first decade of Formula One by winning the World Drivers's Championship five times in the 1950s.

This record remained unbeaten till Michael Schumacher came along (as part of four different racing teams).

Directed by Francisco Macri, this historical documentary aims to understand the mind of the racing legend while examining the lives of race car drivers who routinely risk their lives for the love of speed.

The high-octane world of racing was perhaps far more dangerous in Fangio's time than it is today considering there was no protective gear in those days and safety features were minimal.

 

Am Not Okay With This, Netflix

This coming-of-age story manages to effectively exude a sense of low-key dread.

The show starts out by telling us that the protagonist, Sydney Novak (Sophia Lillis), is dealing with every teenage issue ever teenager has ever had.

Except, when she gets really angry, the object of her anger feels like they've been hit by an unseen shovel.

Among the most subtle of these rage-induced periods is when Novak's best friend's boyfriend, whom the protagonist dislikes, starts bleeding from his nose out of the blue.

Things only get worse from there and Novak has no idea why her rage can "make things happen".

Based on a comic book by Charles Forman, Novak reminds us a little of Carrie, the protagonist of Stephen King's eponymous novel, as well as Eleven from Stranger Things since both these young girls also have telekinetic powers, but the similarities end there.

 

Pushpavalli, Amazon Prime Video

Season two of this drama sees comedian Sumukhi Suresh return as Pushpavalli, a young woman whose highly questionable attempts at wooing a suitor, Nikhil (played by Manish Anand), left viewers aghast.

A Tamilian from Bhopal who follows Nikhil to Bengaluru, the otherwise witty Pushpavalli continues to keep audiences hooked with her unabashedly convoluted attempts to hook the man of her dreams.

After kidnapping his dog, bribing a chaiwallah to do her bidding and getting her leg broken, Pushpavalli goes on to find imaginative ways of getting out of tough spots, so what if that requires getting engaged to someone else, or unleashing a reptile among unsuspecting children.

Special mention must be made of Bengaluru-based actor Shraddha in this well-scripted show as Vasu, the nightie-wearing, hockey stick-wielding landlady who runs Pushpavalli's paying guest accommodation. Vasu's character alone merits a show to itself.

 

Guilty, Netflix

Inspired by how those accused of sexual harassment have slowly made their way back into society, this Karan Johar production aims to rekindle conversations around the #MeToo movement.

Directed by Ruchi Narain, the film stars Kiara Advani as Nanki, whose boyfriend Vijay 'V J' Pratap Singh (Gurfateh Singh Pirzada) is accused of raping his college batchmate.

A politician's son and a musician, V J is the most dateable guy on campus, while the woman who accuses him, Tanu (Akansha Ranjan Kapoor), is someone disliked deeply for being loud, attention-seeking and insensitive.

The film gives the benefit of doubt to both parties, making audiences question if Tanu is making it all up for publicity (something she is capable of), as well as casting doubts on V J's Teflon reputation.

As the authorities investigate, Nanki sets out to find the truth for herself, all the while battling her own personal demons.

 

Maska, Netflix

This coming-of-age film sees Manisha Koirala as a Parsi mother battling to get her son involved in the family business of running an Iranian cafe.

'Nineteen years ago when Rumi was born, his future had already been decided,' says Jaaved Jaaferi, Koirala's screen husband.

Rumi was to grow up and become 'a maska-waala' (one who applies butter) like his father (Jaaferi) before him.

But he decides to become a Bollywood actor instead. Prit Kamani plays Rumi, the confused young millennial who begins discovering his Parsi heritage only after distancing himself from it.

Maska is as much about Rumi's personal journey as it is a celebration of Mumbai's Irani cafes.

With a fair sprinkling of young romance and family drama, this is Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji writer Neeraj Udhwani's first attempt at direction.

 

Next in Fashion, Netflix

As Netflix's first venture into design-wars, this reality show features 18 designers from across the world.

The contestants are all professionals who have dressed celebrities in the past and have worked with major fashion houses, but none is a household name, something they all aspire to be.

The show takes one through the process of creating a design, right from fabric selection and prepping it to the time it's ready to be modelled.

The show is hosted by Tanveer Wasim France (of Queer Eye fame) and designer, model and television presenter Alexa Chung.

The winner gets prize money of $250,000, and the chance to become the next big thing in fashion.

There's also room for inspiration for viewers as contestants design outfits worthy of the runway, formals for work, as well as trendy streetwear.

 

Special Ops, Disney Hotstar

Directed by Neeraj Pandey of A Wednesday! and Special 26 fame and Shivam Nair, this is the latest Indian thriller to be released online.

It features Kay Kay Menon as Himmat Singh, a senior intelligence officer. The story encapsulates how Singh has been chasing a theory that the actual mastermind of the 2001 Parliament attack was someone whose existence no one knows about.

Singh has his own agents in foreign cities and has been splurging on operations to chase this man down, and now he has to justify the money spent.

Between flashbacks, viewers are caught up on how Singh's team is trying to find this mystery villain.

The show reminds us a little of Manoj Bajpayee's The Family Man, which is a better show.

Action scenes and bad writing in the slow parts let down an otherwise decent story, but, for the stuck-at-home and nothing-to-do, it's something one could mindlessly watch.

 

Miss Americana, Netflix

Directed by Lana Wilson, whose previous films focused on suicide and late-term abortion, this project follows the life of American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift.

It opens with Swift being surrounded by diaries, markers of personal stories. This is significant since Swift has made a living out of channelling feelings into songs that have become chart-toppers.

She's then told that her latest album, Reputation (2018), has received no major Grammy nominations. Swift carries on, almost stoic in her approach.

Wilson goes on to show Swift addressing her 'nice girl' image that has dominated the latter's music career, and how Swift deals with idea that 'nice girls don't make waves'.

The story charts her rise to fame as well as her desire to please fans, all of which has led Swift to some dark places.

The film shows the private side of Swift, the celebrity who despite her superstar status leads a life shadowed by loneliness.

 

Westworld, Disney Hotstar

The third season of Westworld is now streaming online, and while it is being lauded for getting futuristic tech references right, we are still dazzled by the brilliant execution of the show's story.

The tale begins in Westworld, a fictional, Wild West-themed amusement park where visitors can do anything they want, without any consequences whatever, because the 'people' in Westworld are actually life-like androids.

These androids are so believable as humans that visitors constantly return to the park to play out their wildest fantasies, actions which would be unacceptable in the 'real'/ world.

Trouble begins when the android hosts at the park gain consciousness about what they really are.

This new season sees them escape into the real world, our world, after a bloodbath.

Based on Michael Crichton's 1973 film by the same name, the series stars Even Rachel Wood as Dolores Abernathy, a sapient android.

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Nikita Puri
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